Saturday, December 8, 2007

Week 15 - Final/Beginning Thoughts on OER

Like many others, I would like to thank David Wiley for allowing us to experience this course. It was truly a learning experience. Interestingly, some of the most important insights for me came from the emotional reactions of people to the course, particularly when it ground to a lull and Alessandro posted 'Week X', and then picked up again. But I'll comment on this more below...

What did I learn? How will I use it?

When I started the course, I had little idea of what I would learn. I knew that in the future I would like to teach university/college courses through the Internet, and wanted to explore some of the avenues for that. I was surprised to discover that I might actually contribute to more than just university students - but that a whole world was there to "open-up" educational learning opportunities - allowing more people to access higher education's knowledge without having the financial or geographical barriers (although of course, access to equipment like a computer and the Internet is still a barrier for many).

I found the new realm of copyright law (i.e. Creative Commons), and examining the OER websites to be particularly useful in my day to day life. I have a friend who needs some basic Stats background - and I was able to send her to Carnegie Mellon's site for just that - in fact, I plan to take some of the courses myself. I will likely write under Creative Commons licenses for many things - particularly in my work with the Canadian Global Campaign for Education (an NGO network on the right to education) - where we create curriculum for teachers to use, re-use, and re-hash for their own purposes as it is. It is much easier just to explicitly say the items are CC.

I also appreciated David Wiley's attempt to bring the whole world's situation into the discussion. My area is international development - an area that really would do well to learn about the advances in this field. This aspect also brought forth some of the critical aspects of the application of OERs - how it affects some people and not others - how it can be viewed differently as a way to help achieve everyone's RIGHT to an education (re: Tomasevski), the empowerment/emancipatory view of enabling people to "trib" regardless of their level of knowledge (reminds me of Freire and Dewey), as well as the economic aspects of copyright, funding OERs, economics behind volunteer contributions, etc. This created a much richer discussion for the course. Thank you David!!

What did we not cover that I realize now we really should have?

We did not really look at the different pedagogy styles of OER - not that we have to use the word pedagogy, but really, what goes on while we learn in different ways. I mean, this course is an implicit example of an OER, and yet none of the examples we explicitly looked at were courses created via blogging. This is a different pedagogical style that the interactions of Carnegie Mellon or the content postings of MIT or UNESCO. I think, based on what I know of the field, that more focus needs to be paid to the learner, and how different technologies and formats affect the learner. Perhaps this is the reason why this course in itself was not looked at as an example?

Alessandro summed the pedagogy issue up for me in his comments, on the "Opened, Week X" infamous blog:
“Where is the beautiful relationship made of glances and smiles and jokes and smell after a hot morning in the classroom? Online teachers/tutors/mentors, did you ever think about this human aspect? Disappointment arise from the awareness that more or less 40 people all around the world are reading things and writing about them but don’t build up any social network.
Based on the experience of this course, I don't think I will try to create OER modules at the moment. I would much rather do something similar to here - form a group of people, set a timetable and discussions, and thereby learn, and teach, and create community of a sort.

On the process side...

I think pedagogy was implicitly touched upon in this class by our experience of feeling out in the cold and disconnected for a while (see Alessandro's: Week X). Yet, it was significantly interesting to see how people started to react to this realization - that there were others out there feeling the same way, and this is when we started to really respond to people's blogs. This is when I started to see the other individuals AS INDIVIDUALS - I feel like I know several of you - because you responded to my blog in a certain manner, and through reading your blogs I start to get a sense of who you are.

I had been the one who suggested having one week to post, and then one week to comment - and I'm glad we made this change. But there are essentially two different learning styles in commenting:
  1. Commenting on other people's blogs: This provides a bit of a conversation, although the conversation is still fragmented. However, more importantly, it is essentially a reaction to what the person has written.
  2. Reading lots of others blogs, and then synthesizing the information on your own blog: This requires a different set of skills. Although I think less of a conversation is created through this style, it does require me to actually consider and merge others thoughts into my own.
I'm not sure what the optimum balance between these two styles are - perhaps a bit of each? Perhaps alternating? Or perhaps asking people to make sure they don't do one style all the time...i.e. give them the autonomy to choose which style, but ask that it not always be the same style. Regardless, I'm really glad we made this change. It made a huge difference in my feelings of community in this course.

I'm sorry that we didn't get to take our work and present it to a group, and then blog on the experience. This was the assignment that was dropped when we changed to one week blogging and one week responding. I'm happy, in a way, because I wouldn't have had time (it has been a v. busy fall), but on the other hand, I think I would have learned the most from this. Stian and I are hoping to present something to the Comparative International Development Education group at OISE/University of Toronto anyway in January - I'll blog about it when it happens.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Conundrums in the Politics of Language in India

I was at a fabulous talk given by Dr. Ajit Mohanty, who is a visiting scholar from the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at J. Nehru Uni in India. He's written several books on language policy in relation to tribal groups in India, with a social justice perspective.

These are some snippets that caught my imagination:
  • Language in India is very hierarchical, and English has won out at the top (as can be seen by the fact that English medium schools are by far the norm (as opposed to Hindi medium or state language).
  • English has became powerful in post-colonial regions particularly in areas where there were previously competing local languages (as in India, much of Africa) - whereas if there was a homogeneity of languages before (e.g. China, Korea), then English doesn't become as strong.
  • For many multilingual speakers, there is no such thing as a primary language - it depends on what you're using it for (e.g. at home your primary language is Norwegian, but for your work it is English, for your prayers, if you're Hindu, it's Sanskrit...etc.)
  • Minority language speakers often make a difference b/t the utility of the language, and the cultural/integration aspects. If they don't see a utility for their own mother tongue, then it doesn't get onto the priority of the school system and it slowly dies or loses status.
  • The Indian system is established for the majority speakers, requiring 3 languages - mother tongue/state language, then Hindi and English. But if you're from a tribal caste, then you have a 4th in there... which is ignored in terms of your formal education b/c the state language wins out instead. (despite the fact that policy states that either your mother tongue or the state language can be taught).
  • Kids learn very early on (b/t 2 and 10 yrs old) how to interact in a multilingual environment, even if they don't know the language of the other speaking
  • In 1970 there were about 88 different languages taught in school, and now there are only about 40...or something like that.
  • Although the number of official languages has expanded from 17 (?) to 22 in recent years - including 2 tribal languages in 2003 (the first that it has happened)
  • Indian national policy says it is supportive of multilingualism, but really in practice it is not...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Week 14 - Musings on Musings of the Future of Education

Random inspiring thoughts that made me think:

Karen rightly says: "In OER, there are more discussions about licenses, standards, and metadata than there are about content, learners, and outcomes. I believe that this needs to change if the OER is to be successful in fulfilling its enormous potential" Agree fully....which leads to the points below:

Acidscorpio had a great point: "I feel the place [OER] will have the most impact is on the casual learner." Really, the casual learner is how the majority of us operate in our work following our formal education - meaning that it really impacts on society. It is funny how the casual learning experience is virtually ignored by the education field, except for some adult education fields looking at nonformal and informal learning. Should we be starting to track the casual learning experiences more? Does anyone know of work done in this area?

Antonio made me re-think about the role of the university - by comparing the "competency-based universities" with the "University-as-a-community". As I commented on his site: I mean, I look at my field/research, which is on how civil societies affect education policy in developing countries. How on earth could there be a "competency-based" test on this?? Knowledge growth is all about university-as-a-community!! His comments made me think deeper, and realize that competency-measures often are just replicating "banking knowledge" or "tabula rasa".

Elisa wrote about the cultural, legal and sustainability aspects required for the future of OERs. She mentions, in particular, that the Italians in this course have created a wiki to develop this further. It got me thinking: why the Italians? what is it about this community that has fostered this? what do other communities need to grow? Why is not a similar community forming in Germany or Bulgaria, or Korea...and what can we learn/borrow from the Italians to form these communities elsewhere??

Yu-chun spoke about accessing "free materials with high quality." I think it is important to remember that PUBLIC LIBRARIES have been around for a long time - offering similar services. It is not the access to free materials that makes OERs incredible, but the ability to borrow and mold materials easily into an alternate format. I loved her comments on the changes to teaching styles that OERs will entail.

Stian's beautiful point: "
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if universities didn’t have the role to sort people, but rather to make all students learn and improve their own skills and understanding, and the way you proved to a company that you were worth hiring as by the actual work that you had done." Agreed. Totally (except that young people with no experience would still be caught in the catch-22 - no experience = no work; no work = no experience). But wonder how it will be financed...I agree that it can be, with, as Stian argues, a shift of priorities. But how can we encourage that shift?

I really liked Thieme's musings (towards the end of his blog) about what the future would be like, staring with: "The shift from a teacher-centered university, with professors standing on a stage and transferring knowledge, towards a learner-centered university happened slowly but steadily, when experts are no longer able to transfer knowledge any better than high quality video and multimedia learning materials." Is that really the only role of the prof?? to transfer knowledge??

One final comment: I really like the idea of having Open Ed, and all kinds of resources online - and am so happy that opportunities are arising. But does anyone else just get absolutely SICK OF BEING ON THE COMPUTER??? My job requires me to spend most of the day writing and researching online. It worries me that the future will see even more of this. I enjoy my job. But sometimes I much prefer a good book, a good phone call, a good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction. I find that sometimes I "trib" much better in these environments. Does anyone else agree??

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Week 13: Future of OERs

A Changing Culture of Assessment

OER proponents tend to focus on the great aspect of opening up higher education to all people - regardless of their ability to afford university. I think this is the third great unlocking of knowledge for the average person (the first was the printing press, the second was free mandatory mass basic education). This is WONDERFUL! I won't dispute it. But not enough attention has been paid to other subtle aspects of why people go to university, get degrees, are assessed.

Wiley spells out one of the results of the new wave of 'tribs' peeps, who will post content, comment on it, mash-it-up, post tests, be bored in lectures where they've already read the content online, etc. And suggests that Western Governors University, which grants credits based on competency, instead of on attendance in class, etc., will be one new way of the higher ed. Funny, but that's what the higher ed system in France has been doing for years. (what about Italy, Norway???)

However, the French aren't afraid to fail people, either. In my understanding as a comparative educationalist, this is part of the reason why the French can offer free higher education in its current form - because they make it darn hard to stay in Uni (the competency exams and essays are a form of weeding people out). In contrast, it seems politically unacceptable for a prof in the US or Canada to fail the majority of its students.

In fact, many scholars over the years have argued - what's the actual purpose of exams? And which exams test actual knowledge, versus those who test your ability to strategize in tests. Any TOEFL teacher knows that you don't actually teach the content, but rather the skill of taking the test, making educated guesses, and ignoring questions that are hard work, but worth the same value. If OER degrees led to a "test your knowledge"environment - what would they actually be testing?

Of course, this begs the question: What's the purpose of a degree?? How much of its function is as a weeding tool for employers? My experience in grad school tells me there is so much more to a degree than simply knowing the content of courses. There is still much to be gained in interactions with other students, profs, colleagues - where dialogue can take place. OERs have great potential to open this dialogue, no doubt. But is this the purpose of the degree?? As an educator, I'd say yes. As an economist, businesswoman...?? Where do these aspects fit into higher learning? Even if we don't want them to, they do...

Is there such a thing as too much participation? too many tribs?

The greatest part of Web2.0 is the realization of the ordinary person that they can contribute something. That the world is not a static place where changes are only made by experts, but that ordinary people can and do change the course of history, technology, life. everyday.

This aspect of OER jives with the idea of participatory learning - that students can and should contribute to discussions, as a way to learn; that the student is not a blank slate in which to 'bank' knowledge. However, cautions on participatory learning are necessary:

I was part of a grad class on Popular Education a few years ago. Great prof - expert in his field, but fully into allowing the students to discuss what they were learning, to the extent that we didn't hear a lot from him. Two dynamics quickly emerged in this class:
1) Some students felt they had more of a right to speak, and dominated the discussion. (Whether this was due to socio-economic factors or their personality, i don't know.)
2) I got really sick of hearing fellow students opinions on the matters - because frankly, it meant that I didn't get to hear the prof. Not that the prof was an infallible demi-god of knowledge. But rather, here was a man who had spent years and years reading and discussing on this body of practice, and didn't have fleeting opinions of the matter, but had thought long and hard about it. (Just like Wiley has for this OER class). And this insight wasn't passed on to me because the time was dominated by a cacophony of quickly thought-out opines on the matter.

I can see the same thing happening in OERs. I think Wiley has done a good job of allowing us to hear his voice, because a good part of our required readings are his thoughts. These readings serve almost as lectures, which is really cool. However, how can we help foster real dialogues in OER courses? If we can, how do we ensure that some students aren't silenced by the domineering of others? Can we?

Should there be a difference between knowledge and opinion? OER content may make this distinction, but I'm not convinced OER courses will...

Week 12: Reflections on OERs

I am just about to write my last post - but realized that I needed to go back and put down my thoughts about other people's blogs on Week 12.

I think part of the reason why I was late on this post, as opposed to the others, is that I really found the content boring. It was contrasting Learning Objects with OERs. As David Wiley pointed out, my experience was very much like the Mr. Miyagi lesson - I eventually realized why it was important to learn and understand the dieing phenomena of Learning Objects - I appreciate what we can learn from them - but that doesn't make it any less boring.

However, I did learn some important things from my colleagues:

1. I liked Jennifer Maddrell's conception of OERs as the next iteration of LOs - as if it is perhaps on a continuum. As usual, her charts are something to make me think visually - I'm glad she posts them, and this one, comparing OER and LO in particular. In many ways, comparing the two made me think again of the differences between CC or GNU licences and regular copyright. The parallels in open and closed spaces are apparent.

2. I also liked Alessandro's example of a Learning Object. It was an audio recording in which he says "this is a learning object" - how very true. He mentioned that it was the first time he had read something about pedagogy in the course. I agree with him. Although, having finished a Masters degree in Education, I'm amazed at how little we actually look at pedagogy. It seems to be almost a lost art. It got me thinking about how John Dewey's style of learning - being learner-centered - could be manifested in one way through OER. However, there are still such limitations of any of these technologies on people's learning, without having a resource there to tutor or guide. I agree with Alessandro whole-heartedly:
I believe - strongly believe - that the pedagogical aspect is far more important than the object itself...We as teacher are not interested in objects - which are in themselves static (whatever small they can be), we as teacher are interested in processes (of learning) and relationships. Education is all about relationships and the processes of learning.
3. Karen and I have similar streams of thought about the OER movement in general. It has such great potential, but at the moment:
The bottom line is that there is too much focus on structure, technology, and systems and not enough attention on learning, learners, and content.
Perhaps this was the same mistake as with LOs - its root is partially in the fact that OERs are still being technically designed - by designers, not necessarily practitioners or end-users. But that means there is a role for people such as myself, who are not interested in the design aspect - but rather who can focus the attention on the learners. Perhaps an upcoming PhD??

4. Rob Barton seemed to take the above thought (at least in my mind), and apply some practical thoughts to it:
de Souza & Preece (2004) point out two components by which an online community can be assessed: sociability (people, purposes, and policies) and usability (software). In their framework, these two components have to be aligned to produce success. Any community (whether online, offline, or a hybrid) will have sociability factors that change as the people (or purposes or policies) in the community change. For any online community, the software has to work with those people, purpose, and policies. They continue on to discuss Semiotics and HCI and how communication takes place among users and designers. The important part, I thought, was that everyone is communicating all the time, but the message doesn't always get across how we expect it.

5. Antonio spoke about the fact that he was just commenting on others blogs, and then keeping track of the comments, using . Although I have decided not to do it this way, it got me thinking about whether his method was in itself an OER or a Learning Object? and where does the learning start or stop?

I have read many of the other blogs, but found that the majority of us have more provided synopses of our readings. Although different nuances came out, I found that I actually learnt the most when aspects outside of the readings were brought into the discussion. Otherwise, I had very little to think about or comment on. I wonder how much this is key to the way that we interact in the classroom - and if this is perhaps what truly provides the enrichment.

I'll leave this as it is for today - as I want to get going on the final blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wk 11: Learning Objects vs. Open Education Resources

I was trying to figure out why I needed to learn about a technology that already seems to be dying, when I don't know enough about the new up-coming stuff like Open Education Resources (OERs). Until I hit David Wiley's lecture comparing the two - and then it became perfectly clear. We learn about Learning Objects (LOs) because they show us the mistakes to avoid and the path to take for OERs.

It also made me realize the areas that OER writers/creators should probably pay more attention to - see end of blog.

Mistakes Learning Object creators made that we should avoid:
  • take-over of the engineers - who focused "reuse" on tech. compatibility, not on cultural or contextual or pedagogical reuse.
  • trying to constrain people to use a certain system - code words - repository etc.
  • making people use the same widgets without being able to adapt (i.e. modify and reuse)
  • keep things copyrighted, but try to get permission. But problems of a) so protected that you can't reuse, and b) obtaining permission is expensive.
What is different between LOs and OERs - i.e. why OERs may be the way forward:
  • OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. As David makes clear in his lecture, if you wanted a student to reference a past course that was online, and they didn't have access to the Learning Management System, there was no way of building on that past strength! Translation is difficult without the ability to modify!
  • Look at what people are already using, and build on it - e.g. Google, RSS, Blogs, Tags.
  • Encourage Creative Changes and Localization of Resources.
So it made me think of other areas where OERs still need to improve:
  • isolation - still a big problem - the early part of this course is an example of this.
  • access - there is still a significant infrastructure that only allows some people the freedom to access the Internet. E.g. there are several IT programmes in Mongolia and Tanzania - but both have large areas that suffer from a lack of electricity, or sporadic power-shedding. It's hard to operate a server to access the Internet when the power goes out. One great and reputable education-focused IT NGO in Tanzania - "TanEdu" - was/is suffering that problem as it didn't have the resources to buy a generator to keep its computers running for the students it had sponsored.
  • access - class/income problem. Compare these Stats in Canada - from 2003 (the more recent ones I can't access without paying - sorry!! Stats, compiled by governments, one thing I think should be opened!!):
Nearly 77% of households with someone with a university degree were connected from home. In contrast, only about 12% of households in which the highest level of educational attainment was less than high school were connected from home. (StatsCan 2003)
These structural and infrastructural problems shouldn't be forgotten - and yet they don't seem to be in the OER literature much. I know that higher ed. concentrates without really realizing it on groups that have access and those that have more social capital - but if we really are going to look at OERs and the "right to education" as Tomasevski defines it (in articles #1 and #2 of this class) - then OER scholars really should be addressing these other issues as well.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Week 10: Connecting the dots on book reviews

First, I'd like to say that I'm so glad we are now reading each other's blogs and posting our thoughts. I cannot stress enough how great it was to not only read others posts on the different books (I now feel I have a grasp of those books!), but also to see others comment on mine - adding ideas I hadn't thought of. Thank you!!

Second, I found it interesting that many of us commented on similar books. While other books weren't reviewed at all! I wonder if it is because the most popular books reviewed were available free online? (Here's who has done what - hopefully useful to others - sorry if I've missed any!)

Books Reviewed

Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (Benkler)
Commented on by: Yu Chun, Anton, Catia, Alessandro, Jon

Free Culture (Lessig)
Commented on by: Elisa, Mela, Greg

The World Is Flat (Updated and Expanded): A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Friedman)
Commented on by: Rob, Jennifer

Wikinomics (Tapscott, Williams)
Commented on by:
Andreas, Stian

The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Easterly)
Commented on by: Erik, Me (Megan)

The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Easterly)
Commented on by: Silvana

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (Lessig)
Commented on by:

Random Collection of Others Thoughts

Although not cohesively glued together yet - this is what caught my imagination this week while reading other's blogs.

1. Localization, not sustainability?

Dave Wiley commented on my blog last week, when I was writing about the importance of avoiding generic blueprint OERs, and targeting the needs of specific groups of learners. He writes:
This extends a drum I've been beating a lot lately - it's not sustainability, but localization that is the final frontier of open education, and "only a local can localize OER."
I hadn't thought of it in terms of a trade-off between sustainability and localization, but I think he is right in one sense - at the moment, projects will be most sustainable if they are localized. Rob also comments on this point - (quoting Friedman and Joel Cawley of IBM) saying that the businesses that will survive are the ones that localize. When OERs become more popular in the future, perhaps then the goal will be a mass audience, but I don't think it will happen soon.

Greg connected this point to the gap between rich and poor:
Most OER come from rich and powerful places of the world because that is who has the money and other resources to create them. Localization is very important to help alleviate this concern.
He also makes an intriguing point, which I agree with whole-heartedly - note: paraphrased:
It seems to me that most educational materials have one voice. The voice of the creator. But in the actual instruction does open ed allow the few to speak for the many, or does it give opportunity for self-expression [among all - learners & teachers]? ... Open ed needs to take a hard look at what voice is speaking in its resources and whether students who are participating in a class, or teachers using open ed materials can be heard.
2. Connecting Localization to Commons-based peer production

So, if localization is where it is at, how does this connect to finding the right people, who are addressing their own specific educational problems, to co-create something that benefits the community?

Alessandro and Anton both deal with this problem, I think. After explaining what "Coase's Penguin" means (thank you for that!), Anton quotes Benkler, in that:
the widely distributed model of information production will better identify who is the best person to produce a specific component of a project.
However, Alessandro comments on the importance of having the participants as active learners. He describes two projects, one which failed because the participants "hadn't switched from the role of mere-learner to the role of learner-for-letting-others-learn". Perhaps this will change as people get more familiar with web2.0 - where participation is the norm? He makes a mind-catching distinction between top-down and bottom-up projects, though - stating that:
If you say peer, you cannot mean pear!
Jon echoes this point, stating that "Projects can deter users from contributing."

It seems as though Friedman and Benkler have hit upon the same point - that the best person for the job will be self-identified in their own interest. Jennifer, commenting on Friedman, states:
Instead of thinking of a global community "collaborating" on an "answer", Friedman describes a network of individuals connecting around common interests. In contrast, collaboration implies members of a group working towards a single goal. However, in the communities Friedman describes, each person bring individual contributions to the network based on individual needs and interests. While they may interact and in turn support each other, they are not necessarily focused on achievement of the same goal or for a specific outside audience.
Very cool, that's all I have to say!

3. Political Opportunity Structures - Not Constraints

Karen wrote very eloquently on Lessig's model of four constraints that regulate behavior (below). She showed how each of the four has important implications for OER.My one comment on this comes from the Social Movement and Transnational Advocacy Network literature.

Instead of looking at these as four constraints - they can be looked at as political opportunity structures (See K. Sikkink's work).
Social movements frequently look at the constraints around them and try to push against these constraints - for example, in the area of law by pushing for new laws concerning freedom of expression, or the rights of civil society groups, etc. In the area of norms, they might try to push the way people see women (suffrage movement), or slavery, or marginalized groups. By pushing the boundaries of the current "constraints", they create pockets of resistance, and little openings from which to expand their ability to act.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Week 9: Easterly's White Man's Burden

What can the open education movement learn from William Easterly's "The White Man's Burden"?

1. Giving up on Utopia - The Need for Searchers
William Easterly is firmly convinced that part of the reason why international aid has failed to a large extent to date (small bang for big bucks) is because aid agencies have been macro-planners, with too large ideals (like ending poverty) fit into World Bank and IMF blueprints, instead of tailored interventions that try to improve specific things in peoples lives. He simplistically divides the world into "Planners" and "Searchers" (which for his purposes works well), stating we need more of the latter and less of the former.

I think this idea - that we should focus on Searching for specific answers, instead of Planning the big plan - is a particularly important concept for the Open Ed movement. Flooding the world with generic blueprint OERs will not necessarily bring prosperity or learning to all. However, targeting the needs of certain groups of learners (the needs of learners, not of the educators) might result in several really great OERs. One size does not fit all.

Searchers are not the be all...
My one concern with relying on Searchers is that Searchers often have better social capital, or are connected to people with better social capital. Easterly doesn't really bring this up, but for example, in the aid there are lots of NGOs in Tanzania doing great work, but they are predominantly concentrated in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, which are the comparatively richer parts of the country. There simply AREN'T many NGOs in the central and southern regions - which are the poorer regions (email me for my thesis, Haggerty 2007, if you want to know more). So, if we're relying on Searchers, they likely would miss these central and southern groups. Another example - we used to concentrate funding on tertiary education - by giving Tanzanians scholarships to study overseas - however, only those Tanzanians who could afford to make it through school fees and boarding of secondary school - which usually was the upper class - were eligible for these scholarships. Of course, one of the reasons we did this was because Northern countries benefited, as Northern universities received the money from the scholarships (a nice circle). All of this begs the question: How does the focus on Searchers affect the equity of aid?

This same idea can apply to Open Education. Although I strongly think that Open Ed should be set to help targeted groups/problems (and who ever else benefits is an added bonus), it is important to take into consideration that in order to truly revolutionize people's access to knowledge through OER, we need to make sure they have access to computers. Again, there are computers in rural Tanzania, but when the power keeps going out... (I love the $100 laptops for this reason).

2. Buzz-word of the Day "Accountability"
The main reason why the Planners haven't be that successful is because they haven't paid sufficient attention to:
  • the wants and needs of those on the ground - i.e. the poor
While paying too much attention to:
  • the purse-holders - i.e. voters in richer countries who want to do "good", as well as richer governments who have strategic interests (however benevolent) of being in poorer countries.
This biases their work towards:
  • shared utopian goals like the 2000 UN Millennium Development Goals or the 2005 Paris Declaration on aid-effectiveness
  • quick tangible fixes - like buying textbooks - instead of slow or intangible fixes like investing in teacher training, PD days, and raising teachers wages.
  • Sexy issues - like focusing on free universal primary education - while ignoring education after Gr. 6 (although this is slowly being addressed due to parents demands in Southern countries) or adult literacy (which is still being ignored, and has huge consequences given that most are women, and that the education of women correlates so closely to the health and education of their children).
And they lack independent evaluation of their work - i.e. they can carry on with a programme for years even if it is failing. As Easterly says:
If the utopian goal distracted attention away from holding aid agencies accountable for tangible outcomes, then step one is to give up the utopian goal. The utopian agenda has led to collective responsibility for multiple goals for each agency one of the worst incentive systems invented since mankind started walking upright. There has also been the incentive bias towards observability, which has led to unproductive efforts at producing things that made a big splash. (Easterly, 2006, p. 368)
I think that Open Education can learn a lot from his perspective - by being ACCOUNTABLE TO LEARNERS. At the moment, a lot of OER discussion deals with its applicability and ease of the creators and teachers of knowledge. In the first few weeks of the Open Ed class, several of my colleagues repeatedly brought the fact that the LEARNERS were largely overlooked. Other biases in the Open Ed discussion seems to be towards copyright and financial issues - again taking the focus away from the needs of the end-user or new creator.

On the other hand, the Open Ed circles have been speaking about the importance of the public good - which is not a very observable phenomenon (in fact, it is often ignored by economists b/c it is hard to measure). We've also been speaking about the numerous volunteer hours put in by thousands of people for open content resources - again, this is not very accurately quantifiable. But Open Ed advocates have been trying to keep the momentum on these two things - the public good and the volunteer hours. This focus on the less observable allows us to think broadly of the cumulative benefits of Open Education. In this regard, compared to the aid industry, OER is ahead of the game.

3. The most bang for your buck
I stated in last week's blog that I thought governments should be in the business of funding open education. It is from Easterly that I get the rationale as to why:
A well established public health principle is that you should save lives that are cheap to save before you save lives that are more expensive to save. (p. 253)
Public policy is the science of doing the best you can with limited resources. (p. 256)
I think this is the path that should be taken by the governments in funding OER. For example, if we could help the most learners by concentrating on the K-12 Education system - improving textbooks and alternative learning media online - then perhaps the government should fund this, and not OERs in higher education. Or, if they are funding higher or adult education OERs, maybe they should focus on areas that are most likely to help the general population - such as health information, home accounting and budgeting, basic math and statistics, computers, in-depth critical political analysis and promoting/preserving national culture. Or perhaps focus on OERs to help immigrants adjust to life in their new country. I'm not sure if I agree with governments spending money first on developing a higher level specialized physics course that only a few people would access (besides, MIT already gives us this).

Comments are most welcome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 8: Economic Models of Open Education

This week we read about the economic side of OER. It's already Friday evening, and no one has yet posted!!! I wish we had a formal system of posting our thoughts, and then posting our reactions to others at a later date - I think I'd get more out of the course. I know I could do this - but things are just to busy unless it is a requirement - waiting for life to slow...

Some Q's of import:

How can you build a sustainable business around giving away educational materials?

I think the first thing to consider is that "sustainable" can have a lot of different meanings in the educational context. It can mean: a) not going into the red financially b) continually having people visit and learn from your ed materials c) continually building materials on your site for yourself d) continually having others contribute new material to your site. Wiley's definition of sustainability encompasses all three of these meanings individually and in combination:
sustainability will be defined as an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals.
The articles for this week show that the purpose of Open Education Resources can vary on these definitions - just as they vary in the purpose of their educational materials. For Carnegie Mellon U, which has very costly development, the purpose seems to be to educate its own 1st year University students in a better manner - and avoid the large "101" lectures. For them, sustainability might mean continually having their own students learn - and whoever else learns from them is just public good. Wiley compared three different OER sites that were premised on very different ideas. MIT, being costly, centrally controlled with all courses online to varying degrees; USU at half the cost, with little control, but lots of courses; and Rice Connexions, with almost no control and almost no direct costs, but the possibilty of lots of other people inputing into the courses/creating modules, etc. He points out that sustainability will mean different things to each group, as their goals are different!

One of the key components of being sustainable financially, however, is being able to harness the vast amount of "spare time" that people have. Benkler makes a great point about how this has been harnessed successfully by breaking tasks into smaller pieces - so one person is only responsible for one page, or one lesson, instead of the whole course/book/textbook/novel. This works better in some areas than in others - so it is likely easier to piece together a translation and an encyclopedia than it is a textbook. Of course, if you had a "Master" develop the template for the textbook, and then break it into smaller pieces for others to do in their spare time, it might be more successful.

Downes and Wiley both offer several suggestions of funding models etc. for OER. I can see how each model could be useful depending on the goals of the organizaiton - but that there is likely not one strict model. I'd like to know if others think that one model is better or worse than the others.

How can you build a sustainable business model around giving away credentialed degrees?

Why would we want to offer free credentialized degrees, unless those free degrees were essentially paid for by the taxpayers funding a public university? What are the benefits of this? How does "giving away degrees" interact with notions of quality? I mean, we have a hard enough time getting quality OER that aren't accredited. How much harder would it be to ensure the quality of a credentialized degree? Without such quality checks, would our degrees become meaningless??

As a student in debt, I really would love paying less for a quality degree. But then again, this already exists - I just have to learn German and move to Germany and I'd get not only a credentialed degree for free, I'd also get access to profs.

And if one argues that Uni's wouldn't make any money using the German model (even though society benefits hugely, including the German economy on the whole) - I think it's only fair to question why should Universities be in the business of making money?!?! Why have we chosen this social model, given how important education facilities are in our societies. As far as I know, this is a more recent trend - as compared to the past. If we are so concerned in OER about contributing to the common good, then one really should think about the common good in other areas, such as through traditional educaiton facilities.

Should governments fund open education?

Yes, governments should!! It is a public good!! Just as they should fund K-12 schools and universities. Really, it is the taxpayer that is funding these things. Education is well known as the "great equalizer" - i.e. a way to give all people in society an equal footing. Although this often doesn't happen in practice, given that richer areas always find ways to subsidize their schools, and richer people can send their kids to private schools, or after school tutoring, or piano/dance/art lessons which expand their creativity and knowledge and confidence. However, countries that do a better job of publicly funding their education seem to do a better job of reducing the rich and poor gap.

I think that this potential for equalization is even greater for open education, as our societies become more technologically savvy (Many poor kids in Canada still don't have frequent access to a computer, meaning that even if OER are available, they can't access them. But 100 years ago only rich houses had telephones, which are now ubiquitous, so I can hope the same will happen for computer access.)

Do governments already fund OER?

Well, Canada's SchoolNet and some United Nations programmes, described by Downes is one example of a government funded open education project - but how much it really is a OER? I don't know. And what other government initiatives are there? If you know of others, enlighten me!!

Missing CC License - CC-By->2@ (full c for 2 years, then CC-BY??)

I was talking with Stian the other day about some amateur filmmakers who were hesitant to post their stuff as CC...and how many filmmakers make their $$ in the first year or two after release, and then their films disappear into oblivion. And how this is a shame for artists from smaller countries, like Norway, who's work is heavily subsidized by the public.

This made me think that it might be beneficial to have a CC license that can change over time. I.e. it is maybe a full copyright, or a restricted CC for a few years, and then becomes CC-BY. I assume that people can change their copyright on their works on their own over time - for example, something of mine that is now copyrighted, I could make into CC-BY when I want - but knowing me, I would have forgotten about the work by the time I wanted to do that.

Perhaps we need:
CC-BY->2@ (i.e. becomes CC-BY, after greater/longer than 2 years regular copyright - and one could change the 2 to whatever number...).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Licensing Open Educational Resources - Week 7

Given that almost everything current is copyrighted, it makes perfect sense that we've developed licenses like CC and GFDL that explicitly tell people that they CAN use our stuff. Kudos to this movement!

But given this week's readings, I'm still really puzzled by where CC and GFDL have led us.
  1. Why are CC and GFDL not compatible - I know the technical/legal reason - but what's making it so difficult for them to change their licences to be compatible with each other? Several of these week's articles highlighted this problem - that docs licensed under the share-alike must be shared under the same license, precluding mixing with other licenses. Ok. So what's the hold-up on the solution? It's just legal jargon that needs to be changed, no??
  2. Why haven't we focused more on expanding "fair use"? Certainly this would be one way around the above conundrum. It would also help solve problems with using copyright materials. I mean, as an academic, I certainly give people their due, but don't need to ask them for permission each time I cite their stuff.
  3. Stian speaks about the problems with Share-Alike and Non-Commercial versions of the CC. I agree with him - this is a serious problem for any educator who is working within an organization, or trying to make their bread and butter. Is there a need for a type of CC license that differs between commercial as in making money, and commercial as in monopolistic activities that limit future use/dissemination? One blog (I've lost where!) mentioned the instances where companies have managed to limit the future use of public domain items - isn't this really the issue?
  4. Is there an easy educational tool yet - maybe a firefox plug-in - that can track the websites I've been - where I can quickly log the ideas so that over the course of a week of reading, I don't lose where I've read something? Maybe this is just my transition from paper to electronics - but you just can't flip through past history of web pages the same way you can through a book...It has posed rather serious challenges for me in trying to cite and follow articles. How to resolve?
Copyleft good?

I wish copyleft was good - I love the name. But I think it is a shame that the term must be associated with a "share-alike" clause. I'm in full agreement with David Wiley's assertions (1) (2) that sharing-alike really takes the freedom of choice out of FUTURE creators - and can cause serious problems for free educational resources because a GFDL and CC license can't necessarily be fixed. Share-alike is inherently a political act. And although I like the politics behind it, I want to be able to make the decision to make something educational freely open for myself and others. As Noam Chomsky says:
If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
In forcing others to be open, are we really not just imposing new restrictions?

I love edocet's comparison to walking his dog through private property in the countryside - and compared it to OERs requiring a password to access the lessons:
The very most part of sites are “public” in the homepage, but when you try to access a single course, you are required a subscription (usual and maybe correct) and even a password, or you’re not allowed not even to see the material ... To me, it sounds more or like if during my walk with the dog, the men had told us “ok, you can see the path but you need to tell us the password to go through… or go simply back your way home”.
When I lived in Sweden, similar to edocet's Tuscany it seems, it was common for a public path to go through private land, and continue right on - this does not occur very often in Canada, nor I think in the United States. I've been told to clear off private land several times, while simply enjoying the view. In fact, I was driving on a public road, overlooking a lake, and happened to stop by a house for a final view of the sunset. The owner came out and was quite gruff about "his" land. This says more about our culture than about copyright laws. It is the same culture that can potentially limit fair use, or put registration on an OER page to control access.

My overarching question? Fair Use seems to be a culturally derived norm - i.e. there don't seem to be set rules around it, but it is evaluated on a case by case basis, based on past experiences. I don't think the problem is copyright, or non-commercial, or share-alike. I think the problem is a culture that sees everything as enclosed property (something that CC and GFDL try to get away from). Is it not this, then, that should be the focus of change? Can this not be done more through redefining fair use of CC and copyright material, instead of creating even more new licenses?

On a final note, there is a certain amount of education of the public that needs to be done to make CC more widespread. I think that the more symbols we get into with CC, the harder it will be for people to get their head around what they can and can't do with the material. David Wiley's GREAT CHART of CC licenses and their restrictions on future licenses is a prime example of mapping out something that confuses me to no end. I think it'd be smart to err on less licenses than more...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Licensing for the Public Domain? (Week 6)

I am still getting over my shock that almost EVERYTHING from 1923 on is copyrighted! And that, in essence, I'm breaking copyright when I cite someone's article in my scholarly article, except that I'm allowed to under "fair use". This thought leads me to several concerning this week's readings:

1. Why have we focused on developing new forms of copyright (GFDL and Creative Commons) instead of focusing on expanding and clarifying "fair use"?? Bound by Law - a comic that explains copyright - points out how ridiculous copyright can get for documentary makers - how a TV in the background showing the Simpsons may require the documentary maker to pay $10,000 to the copyright holders, or cut that scene out. I agree with the makers of Bound by Law, that it essentially prohibits the little guys from making films! So, why not expand fair use?

2. Lessig's Against perpetual copyright, and his interview, do a good job of explaining why we have copyright in the first place in the USA - "to promote science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors...the exclusive rights to their writings" (US Congress, cited in Carroll 2002). And how it is the balance between copyright and the public domain that helps further new works. However, I don't think that 'promoting the arts and sciences' are the reasons behind the lengthening of the copyright. I'm sure there is a huge lobby behind the push for longer copyrights. And I'm sure it is composed of those who are making a substantial profit from keeping things copyrighted (might Disney be a prime example?). And often government policies - or lack thereof - do not get made because it is in the interest of the public, but because it is the interest of powerful lobbies (e.g. lack of US commitment to legislation to control air pollution and global warming).

So, how do we refocus attention on the overall benefit to the public? Perhaps, as Lessig and Pollock suggest, this refocus may occur as we distinguish between the properties of physical and intellectual works? (Tangible goods being rivalrous goods, and private property too being connected to public works like roads). Pollock mentioned that the US Government's documents were all in the public domain, in contrast to European governments. I thought it was a very influential argument to show the economic benefits that resulted from this.

This week's readings did a very good job of teaching me about the values of both the public domain and the importance of copyright in some form. They also hinted at why new bodies like Creative Commons or GFDL have come about.

HOWEVER: I don't feel like I have a very good grasp of the differences between Creative Commons and GFDL (anybody that knows a great link to this, please comment!). And although David Wiley has asked us:
How much (what percentage) of [the value of the public domain] would you estimate is realized when works are licensed with a Creative Commons or GFDL license?
I actually want to rephrase the question to: what value of benefit to society, to promoting the creation of the "sciences and the useful arts" result from licensing through CC or GFDL? Becuase, public domain and copyright are intrinsically connected! And copyright is not necessarily bad. My understanding is that CC and GFDL are essentially just a freer and more explicit form of copyright - where people clearly are able to understand what use you as a creator are willing to give to your work! Am I wrong? In terms of the benefit to society through CC and GFDL, I think that it IS an incredible benefit (a high percentage!).

Wiley also asks:
To what degree would the open educational resources movement (and therefore the world) be additionally benefited if OERs were simply placed in the public domain?
In response to this, I think that OER should have some type of copyright - preferably CC based on my current understanding - as it helps give the organizations incentive to keep creating and posting the works - and yet OERs mostly seem to permit rejigging and recreation already - as long as attribution is there. I guess the benefit of putting OER in the public domain, however, would be that they possibly could be used in works that are commercial - and hence re-copyrighted. Economically beneficial. But I'm not sure if the additional economic benefit would equal the loss to the general public.

Any thoughts on these above are most welcome, as I'm really not firm in what I write here - still trying to muddle it out.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Week 5's assignment:

What do these representative open education projects have in common? What differentiates them? In the context of open education projects, what does "quality" mean?

Comparing six organization's examples of Open Education Projects, I have to agree with Karen that they have more in differences than they do in common. These six organizations are: Open U, Rice Connexions, Carnegie Mellon, UNESCO, MIT, and the National Repository. Rob and Greg have already described the courses individually, so I will leave that out and speak more generally to the set as a whole. The biggest commonality between them is the purpose of providing free and open courses (or parts of courses) to the public, without accreditation. They tend to:

  • focus on higher education (usually 1st year university courses) and therefore focus more targeted at adult users;
  • define "interaction" as writing comments/posts and have a "register" option which allows you to post;
  • view content in the traditional "banking" way - where instructor GIVES info to students to receive (although there are exceptions here);
  • not have a sustainability plan (as most seem to be funded through things like the Hewlett Foundation, and it is unclear what the contingency plan is when this dries up);
  • English focused, particularly an American focus (even a course on World Religions was premised on the idea that the learner would be an American!).
Differences abound though:
  1. The secondary purpose of each site differs. Some, like the Open U and MIT seem to also promote their university in this way. Others, like Rice Connexions and the National Repository, seem to focus on linking to other Universities (Rice does this a lot) or organizations (like the National Repository's links to Hippo Campus and OER Commons).
  2. Some provide whole courses (Carnegie Mellon and UNESCO), while others provide modules that can be compounded into courses (Open U, Rice Connexions), while the others seem to mix these two (National Repository, MIT)
  3. Types of courses also differed. Many offered 1st year University courses, particularly on the Maths and Sciences, with some History/Economics mixed in. But the National Repository also offered Advanced Placement and High School courses on these subjects. Rice Connexions had a great section on Music! And UNESCO gave the kitchen sink on subjects.
  4. Users?! It is clear that several of the sites haven't really thought about their end users (I'd say Carnegie Mellon is the exception, focused on students!). Some of the courses/modules would be most useful for an educator looking for resources to teach. Others are more geared at students looking for stuff to learn. Most sites seemed to have a mix of these, without being clear as to who the info would be most useful to! In fact, most of the sites varied in learning levels as well - yet only Open U seemed to provide a useful scale to know how advanced the information was.
  5. Content focused - what about skills?? Carnegie Mellon's courses were clearly designed for students to learn - and they have spent a lot of time honing the courses to engage students in an active learning way. Many of the other courses read more like a textbook or a wikipedia type knowledge - begging the question as to why I, as a student ,would look here for the information, instead of Wikipedia. Content seems to rule, with little attention paid to the skills that could be learned online. Perhaps the answer to this is contained in Scott Leslie's screencast on client-side extensions and educational resources (which fellow-classmate Abject Learning led me to! Thx!!).
I must say that the site that most impressed me was the Carnegie Mellon - because I readily saw its use in helping students that have to take basic "101" courses, typically done in lectures of more than 500, suddenly being able to learn better through this kind of medium. Their focus on how students would actually engage and learn something like Statistics (as opposed to just posting the content as a textbook) is commendable. Learning, not content, focused.

As for quality definitions, these also seemed to vary across the sites. Some retained their quality focus by just posting their own university's creations (Open U, MIT, Carnegie Mellon). In fact, with MIT, only some courses were really available online, whereas others were really just the syllabi and a few exercises thrown together - it was good quality, but limited content in some courses. In Open U, other creators can create in a separate space - but not post in the learner's space. In contrast, other sites allow content from wherever. Rice Connexions has a "post publication review" in order to allow for the fast pace of the Internet. The National Repository has developed a "course development guideline" which it uses to evaluate each course for quality. UNESCO doesn't seem to evaluate at all - and although some of the courses I looked at were incredible (e.g. Rural Finance Centre's material on starting micro credit orgs), others were an embarrassment, full of Google advertisements taking up more of the screen than the content.
I was very excited by the potentials of these organizations, despite the design improvements that are needed. I still don't quite understand how these organizations will create a synergy between them all. Someone last week had said something like "we don't need millions of 1st year university courses at every U, raising questions in quality - we just need a few really good ones, which everyone can use." (If anyone knows where this is from, please let me know!). How to do this remains an unanswered question.

A last comment, as Edocet asked, and I wondered:
At the end, from teacher to teacher, David: why didn’t you put in the list this resource? –>
Maybe next year?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Week 4 - Comparison of 3 Overviews of OER

Over the last few weeks, we have been reading four overviews on Open Education Resources (OER), from the OECD, OCLOS and the Hewlett Foundation (titles at bottom), for David Wiley’s Course. First, it is notable that these are three influential and large organizations. The very fact that they would have each undertaken an overview of OER, outlining its growth, shows how important they feel it is on the educational, economic, and region/global front.

The overviews have several features in common. First, their definitions of OER, as Antonio describes, are reasonably similar. It appears to have something to do with the expanding the common good, and cover aspects of content, software tools, and copyright laws. My fellow classmate, Mela, has drawn out some of the other common ideas that seem to be found in the three documents, which I agree with. In her/his words, namely:

  • interoperable;
  • accessible;
  • re-usable;
  • free;
  • digital;
  • shared;
  • easy to be changed and translated;
  • the way to supply them is the open source sw;
  • the privileged media is the new technology;
  • the preferred way to share them is Creative Common License (By NC SA).
  • create contents repository open and free.

The three documents also similarly bring up the enablers/drivers and inhibitors/challenges to OER. However, they tend to limit their discussion to the realm of Higher Education, most likely because this is the area where the most financial resources seem to have been concentrated on developing OER to date. Karen notes the lack of focus on regular schooling, and textbooks in particular, the later of which I had mentioned in my previous blog. To this, they also lack OER’s potential for education in the realm of informal learning, popular education, adult literacy, potential for emanicaptory learning, or learning how to become a critical thinker and become involved in particular social movements. These latter, I think, has great potential, especially in the area of international development, governance and democracy. I can only imagine what will happen when social movements and NGOs start engaging in OER to systematically further knowledge about select issues (be it Darfur or water or the right to education).

There are several notable different emphases and biases in the documents. In fact, I would argue that these different emphases are the result of the hidden biases of the organizations. The OECD document tends to focus on the economic arguments. I found that the writers were almost surprised by the fact that people would be “giving knowledge for free”, and dealt with the potential economic benefits and the shortcomings of this. In contrast, OCLOS tended to focus on a discussion of learning styles, and OER’s potential to shift from a teacher-centered to learner-centered pedagogy. Karen describes this as a constructivist bias, and I think I agree with her. The Hewlett Foundation document profiles the successes and variety of the OER projects they have helped fund. It is an important document in that it highlights the fact that the initiatives don’t all connect and build into a greater entity – at the moment they tend to be more one-offs. As they describe, what is needed are a few high quality first year undergraduate courses, not every university to have its own, where people are unsure of who/where to trust for quality. The Hewlett Foundation report is also the only one to mention and draw out the importance of OER in Developing countries. I would like to see more work in this area.

The Hewlett Foundation report spoke most clearly to me out of the three. I think this is because it mostly dwelt more on highlighting concrete programmes, which forced me to briefly explore these programs online. Of the three documents, it was the one that actually needed to be read on the screen, so that I could flip frequently to the internet. By doing so, I gained a much greater and clearer perspective of what OER was. I know that the other two documents mentioned other projects, but their style of writing did not necessitate me to actually look at their references. In this manner, the Hewlett Document itself is much more in line with the new learning style that OER calls for, as compared to the other two documents which replicate a typical report. I also appreciated their International Development focus, as it is my area of study.

These readings have provoked numerous questions and areas for further investigation. In order of importance:

1. I feel very ignorant of copyright, and the inhibitions of it. I read a news article the other day of two cases (one Canadian, one America) where people’s pictures were used without permission by advertisers, b/c they were supposedly in the public domain! What are the ramifications of copyright, the lack of copyright, privacy, etc.?

2. Why are OER being developed? It is not free. As the Hewlett article points out, it cost MIT about $25000 to put each of its courses online. Although I can see the benefit for the common good, I still am skeptical about this being the reason behind its take-off. I just don’t think Universities are that altruistic, even if I wish they were. The overviews dealt with this subject, but not enough for me to truly grasp the rationale behind!

3. Why don’t we have OER K-12 textbooks, as both Karen and I have mentioned? This could be significantly more beneficial to the common good than university courses online!!

4. What are OER’s effects on democratization? Improving governance? These are key issues in many developing countries, particularly for USAID. How/Can OER contribute?

5. How sustainable, truly, is this?

6. David, in light of what I have learnt about OER learning processes, I wrote this last week - a tinkering suggestion for designing your OER courses - I think it is worth repeating, as I'm fairly certain you'll read this week's blog, but not sure about last week's:

Following on OLCOS's process of value chains I think it would be much smarter to require two posts - even if they are each a little shorter. The first would be one's own reflections on the reading (due on Sunday eve?). The second would incorporate others' views of the reading, - it would be my other reflections on the reading in light of this, or perhaps a change to my original post. It would be due a few days later, given that I and many of my peers seem to post nearer the Sunday deadline. This would allow me to articulate my own thoughts clearly, but would also force me to revisit/rethink them in light of others' comments - an excellent learning value chain. Because this would not all be done on Sunday night before midnight, I actually would have a chance to read my peers' work before posting mine.

Week 2-4 questions answered within:

What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you? Why? What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently?

Three Overviews of OER:

Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 147 pages)

Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 149 pages)

A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 80 pages) Hewlett Foundation

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Week 3: OLCOS & Education as the practice of freedom?

Paulo Freire, in the 1960s, spoke about getting rid of a "banking" notion of education, and thought that learning, particularly literacy, should begin from the learner's own knowledge and building from their experiences (e.g. in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Education as the Practice of Freedom, and We Make the Road by Walking).

This week's reading, the European OLCOS article: Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012, seems to centre around these same themes - of slowly transforming the practice of teachers and learners. Although this vision has yet to be achieved, four decades later. Similar to Freire, OLCOS speaks about the need for teachers to change from dispensers of knowledge (i.e. banking), to facilitators of learning (Ch. 4). Although OLCOS explicitly recognize that changing institutionalized teaching habits takes time, I thought it is very important that OLCOS suggests that Open Education Resources (content, software and tools), are only the means to the end of furthering this innovative form of learning and knowledge creation (innovation being one of the key hopes of the institution). Their focus on practice, and innovative practice at that, is notable. Will open education become a practice of freedom? too early to say.

Below I have some of the more pertinent thoughts this week's reading elicited. namely 1) collaboration and creating garbage. 2) value chains - rejigging this course to ensure more reflection on others' work - thereby re-using/improving one's ideas. 3) why don't we have open textbooks?

1) I really like the idea of collaboration and co-creation. But I do wonder what will happen to quality of content, and what will happen when so much garbage is on the web. Although there has been a massive growth in the access to useful info on the net (it was amazing to research my thesis and have a digital library of 1/2 of my references, as compared to nothing 10 years ago), on the other hand, this growth has been dwarfed in comparison to the amount of non-peer-reviewed material I need to wade through. And I only expect it to get worse - especially if each class, each year, is constantly creating and recreating. This can be a really wonderful thing, but how do we deal with it in terms of volume? quality? the dividing line between learning for oneself and collective learning?

2) I was inspired by OLCOS's notion of "value chains", where content is provided on the web, then reused and modified by the learner to become better. From this, I have new ideas what I think should be the requirements of postings on Sunday night... The following is a description of the creation of a value chain:

"Collaborative learning practices are most likely to allow for such value chains to emerge and
progress, because the learning community will:
| use some existing digital content or courseware as a starting point;
| consult other available content from e-learning repositories or other relevant sources of
| document their own study process and results, such as use cases, experiences, lessons learned,
guidelines, etc. (note: documentation also includes metadata);
| make this enriched content available again to other learners, e.g. via repository and/or syndication services, and
| thereby share the results for re-use, and enrichment, by other learners." (OLCOS pg. 43).

It occurred to me, while reading this, that this is truly how I do learn in collaboration with my peers in the Open Education course. However, I have noticed that most people do not post until Sunday afternoon/evening...making it difficult to read and incorporate their views into my postings. The fact that it is late Sunday evening also means that my peers don't have a chance to read my work! As well, if I read their stuff at this time, before I write/post my views, my own views tend to get muddied in my post. It is as if the speed of learning I need to compose something that I like, that reflects my views but incorporates others, is too fast. The time period is too short for me to do this!

Following on OLCOS's process of value chains, described above, I think it would be much smarter to require two posts - even if they are each a little shorter. The first would be one's own reflections on the reading. The second would incorporate others' views of the reading, - it would be my other reflections on the reading in light of this, or perhaps a change to my original post. This would allow me to articulate my own thoughts clearly, but would also force me to revisit/rethink them in light of others' comments - an excellent learning value chain. Because this would not all be done on Sunday night before midnight, I actually would have a chance to read my peers' work before posting mine. How this process would correspond to OLCOS's value chain is described below:

"Collaborative learning practices are most likely to allow for such value chains to emerge and
progress, because the learning community will:
| use some existing digital content or courseware as a starting point; [e.g. the OCLOS article is the starting point this week]
| consult other available content from e-learning repositories or other relevant sources of
information; [in this case, I drew upon Freire, or I could have drawn on past weeks info too, or some of the resources mentioned in the OCLOS article]
| document their [the student's] own study process and results, such as use cases, experiences, lessons learned, guidelines, etc. (note: documentation also includes metadata); [I think this would be exploring my own ideas, as I have done in this piece - documenting what "I" think about this]
| make this enriched content available again to other learners, e.g. via repository and/
or syndication services, and [This would be through my post, by Sunday evening midnight]
| thereby share the results for re-use, and enrichment, by other learners.[Well, I think that by Wednesday evening, I should have to post another short blog, highlighting worthy thoughts/comments on other people's blogs. it would allow my thoughts to grow as a learner] (OLCOS pg. 43 - [closed brackets are my thoughts]).

Based on this thought process, I think I will try to imitate this chain over the coming weeks...starting this Wednesday...(David, let me know if this is not advisable, please - but it is my recommendation for future courses...)

3) The OLCOS article touched the important and different roles played by teachers vs. publishers. However, it also described publishers as the stop-gap for open content. Copyright issues can stop the re-use, modification and open sharing of content (p. 29). Although I recognize the important work that publishers do, I am of a similar opinion that textbooks are one area where the public would greatly benefit from having its own group of publishers that produces textbooks for schoolkids Gr. 1-12, within one country or region. The price of these textbooks, and replacing them every few years, is quite costly for the school system, and the books are "static" content - which is not very compatible with OCLOS's vision of the new learner in an information society. By having public publishers, we could afford to create high quality textbooks at a much lower cost, as the costs would be dispersed across a whole nation. How else would we resolve this tension between creating profit for publishers, and serving the common good? Or do we encourage a new breed of publishers to emerge as well....??? Perhaps I need to look again at OCLOS and the OECD's description of incentives!

My good friend, Mark Federman, drew my attention to the issue of providing textbooks for free as an OER quite a while ago. I later found out he had blogged on this very issue of free textbooks in 2005. I think it is an idea that should be thought about and grown - in the very same way that a values chain is a worthy idea!