UKOER 2: Technical synthesis introduction


The is the first post in a short series offering a technical summary of the 23 projects in the  UKOER 2 programme. It is based on interviews with the projects, the data and information summarised here is all available in PROD.

The JISC site describes the programme as follows:

Phase 2 of the HEFCE-funded Open Educational Resources (OER) programme is managed jointly by the Higher Education Academy(Academy) and JISC. Running between August 2010 and August 2011, it will build on and expand the work of the pilot phase around the release of OER material, and commence research and technical work examining the discovery and use of OER – specifically by academics.“.

The technical requirements provided to projects are outlined in OER 2 Technical Requirements.

Subsequent posts in this series look at:

[These posts should be regarded as drafts for comment until I remove this note]

Technical choices in UKOER 2 Many Eyes


data collection:

as before this data is a snapshot of a project’s choices at a point in time during the programme –  it sometimes talks about active intent or choices being explored and so it may not reflect final options. As in the UKOER prod summary it should be noted that selection of a choice (i.e. using X) is not exclusive. For example, projects may often use platforms from online providers (such as YouTube) alongside organisationally provided options (such as a repository).

strand C:

This strand of the programme focused on creating both a static and dynamic collection of OER and generally explored issues around aggregation in more detail – as such these six projects and their tech choices are worth reviewing in greater detail. The data from their interviews has, however, also been included in the general summary when appropriate.


for a variety of reasons one project is not in this data so the displayed information is out of 22 projects (and as noted the categories may not always be relevant to all of the Strand C projects)

An OER manifesto in twenty minutes

A brief rapid response to @Tore ‘s request for a ten point manifesto on OER (& ok it was 25 minutes)

Andy Powell makes the key point: “@tore open, open, open, open, open, open, open, open, open, open – no need to mention ‘e’ or ‘r’ #nordlet” RE

But if I was writing a manifesto on OER it would start with/ cover some of this:

  1. openness is a way of working / state of mind not a legal distinction
  2. openness needs to be integrated into your way of working retrofitting is too expensive
  3. value of open is potentially greater than the value of closed
  4. open content affords new forms of scholarship and enterprise
  5. stop having to ask permission: remove barriers with open licensing
  6. use a common open license or don’t bother (lawyers read licences, users and machines don’t)
  7. you need a good reason to keep publicly funded work closed
  8. open content should allow you to build commercial services if you want
  9. open content shifts the $ focus onto what is really valuable: expertise, support, and ‘accreditation’ [for various dftns]
  10. open content has the potential to improve access to education (and consequently benefit society)

I’d also want to say something about

  1. openness does have costs – budget for them [edit (for clarity): costs here are not just £$ costs]
  2. you don’t have to be open all the time with everything – mixed economies may be practical
  3. the transition to openness is unsettling
  4. the (re)development of new business models, organisations, and practices challenges existing business models, organisations, and practices

The above is written without appropriate sources and without consulting existing manifestos but as an exercise in trying to quickly capture what I’ve absorbed and thought working in the OER community. If I’ve reproduced your work without realising it please comment ;-)  Doubtless a more considered version would look a bit different but as a discussion point in this amount of time that’s what I’d throw into the ring.

Public funding, OER, and Academics – a brief reflection

Earlier today Amber Thomas kicked off an interesting discussion on twitter about which institutions had a reputation for openness in various domains. One tangential thread from this conversation was a comment Pat Lockley made about the difference between openness that happens in connection to funded projects and openness that happens at your own initiative. I think Pat has a point but also think there are differences between models that work for individuals and models that work for institutions.

I’ll reproduce some of the conversation here, as it raises some issues.

Pat: my take is, if it’s done off your own back, it’s open, else it’s just “of kernes and gallowglasses supplied”

Me: there’s a place for funded stuff & sustainable open models rely on a source of funding; paying for related services/ expertise

Pat: it’s a very broad brush to say “sustainable open models rely on a source of funding”

Me: eg in open source many coders can contribute to projects in spare time because they have skills that earn them enough money

Pat: but thats true internally and externally. An academic is paid, if once paid, open, then everything can be open?

Me: in my view? yes; in uk -uni’s publicly funded; academics are public employees; ~our work should be openly available (exceptions)

Me: though if such an economy i think academics currently undervalued/ under paid [nb: ~well paid; but underpaid for 'market value']

Pat thought I was a bit off track to suggest academics aren’t paid enough, so i tried to clarify a bit

Me: NB academics well paid but i’m suggesting MAY be underpaid for required length of time in unpaid education to get job…. [1/2]

Me: …& comparable commercial salary for level of education. In context of: OER & seeing themselves as public employees [2/2]

Obviously there are assumptions, cross purposes, and missing context in my part of our exchange but I wanted to capture it to think about some more.

For ‘fun’ I’ve been thinking a little with a colleague at Strathclyde (Stuart Boon) about some of the factors in why an academic might choose to share resources openly. Perhaps that’s why i got distracted by the question of (relative) academic salaries. Advocates for openness often make the argument that, in general, if something is publicly funded it should be publicly available and I agree with this position both as a tax payer and sort-of academic (I’m not claiming that I’m always consistent but this is my default stance).

I think what I’m trying to think around is what this potentially does to the value of intellectual output – specifically does this argument promote:

  1. academics are solely public employees who do “work-for-hire” (I know some institutions have such a policy but many are deliberately ‘vague’)
  2. academcs employed by private institutions or at public institutions but supported by private funding (on a FEC equivalent basis) have no obligation to the public, and perhaps even an obligation not to share?

Obviously the issue of sharing and public funding is only a small part of the arguments for and against openly sharing stuff, but what side effects do we risk in such an argument?

My discussion about salaries was more to do with the notion that if you’re about to get a phd (or thinking about doing one) and are faced with the prospect of competing to become ‘work-for-hire’ at a university for a comparatively lower rate rather than being work for hire in other sectors, is there a risk that fewer candidates will go into academia? [or given the glut of phd's and dearth of jobs is this a good thing?]

I appreciate there are a multitude of reasons people go into or end up in any given job – but does this argument for OER further remove the, somewhat mythical, notion of a scholar and replace it with academic for hire [is that a good/ necessary thing if it provides accountability? or does it lead to 'industrialisation' of education].

This isn’t entirely coherent and is perhaps somewhat UK centric but there’s something in the conversation and my reflection that I wanted to capture.

On innovation: failure rates, qualities, and environment

Thinking about innovation

A constant thread of conversation and discussion in the past few years in my professional world, particularly since starting work with CETIS, has been how to support and encourage innovation. The past month hase been especially thought provoking – in part because I’ve been thinking a little about ongoing work of the Observatory and in part prompted by the chance I had to take a break from my summer holidays and go to a symposium on innovation and reform in global education. The symposium was held at the Center for Global Curriculum Studies at Seattle Pacific University – “2011 Global Symposium : Educational Innovations and Reform in Countries around the World”. With a focus on educational practice, theory, and policy and with delegates who were teachers, lecturers, and university administrators, the symposium was a stimulating step out of my ed tech and development project comfort zone.

I’m not going to go into the symposium in detail, in part because it was too diverse for me to try to synthesise but mostly because it’s outside of my area of expertise and you can get the slidecasts of the presentations on iTunesU. I’d like to pick out one or two things that I think are relevant to our more tech-focused conversations about fostering innovation.

How do you think about failure and failure rates?

Out of every ten innovations attempted,

all very splendid,

nine will end up in silliness

Antonio Machado (Spanish poet)


make lots of mistakes and make them quickly

(Agile programming via CRIG and David Flanders)

Obviously a piece of software failing and the failure of an educational strategy are quite different things with different implications for those involved but innovation requires risk, requires that we tolerate failure, and we recognise when a good idea has not worked in practice.

I reckon if we (HE/FE) manage a 1 in 10 adoption rate of successful innovations I reckon we’re actually making a difference – we need to be be willing to work on and with things that turn out to be silly.

How do we judge innovation?

It is perhaps obvious that innovation will be judged one a case by case basis, but when trying to foster innovation it’s easy to focus on the ‘shiny’ and forget both the criteria which innovations will be judged on and the potential hidden costs of an innovation. In that light I found Richard Scheuerman’s “Trends in American Teacher Preparation: Innovations, Destinations, and Consequences”  thought provoking – in particular his summary of Wendell Berry‘s reflections on innovation (the following is Scheuerman’s summary of points made by Berry in 1987 interview about not buying a computer; currently available ).

Fundamental Qualities of Progressive Innovation

  1. Cheaper than the replacement or what has been charged before
  2. More effective than the replacement or the programme previously used
  3. Takes less energy than the previous model
  4. If technological use renewable energy where possible
  5. Should be comprehensible or obvious to the masses
  6. Should promote well-being of local places and the community
  7. Should not disrupt goodness including family and cultural relationships”

I suspect most readers of this blog may be sceptical of a writer who questioned why he needed a computer  but, sidestep your initial scepticism, remember that he said this in 1987, and consider how such criteria relate to what we do. For innovations that require mass adoption these qualities provoke some interesting questions, and more importantly provoke some interesting responses (in my mind at least).

I’m still thinking about how the above apply to innovation in education and how innovation and purpose interact and it was interesting throughout the symposium to see how any discussions about innovation and reform often began with and certainly could not avoid discussing the purpose(s) of education as they interact with national policy. In this light I’m also glad to see another round discussions about the purpose of education (this time looking at assessment) – purpos/ed – kicking off.

Where and when does innovation happen?

this is perhaps the critical question for an Innovation Support Centre  [alongside "how do you measure innovation?"].

In his concluding thoughts about patterns of reform which had been mentioned in the symposium, Dr Ellis noted that different global regions who had presented had reported on different patterns of centralisation and decentralisation in their initiatives both in terms of mode and style of educational structures and their intended impact on the student (e.g. a Russian trend towards national identity and centralised structures and a Chinese trend towards regional structures and developing individuals potential) – reflecting that some of the time it may be the process rather than direction which is the important aspect of effective reform.

Perhaps then the key element in innovation support, is the environment ISCs can help create and process we support – the events, the community interactions, stimuli, and the amplification of interesting work. I’m struck by the way I’ve seen this work UKOLN is doing with in Dev8D and DevCSI, and the hackdays, conferences, and community meetings we organise.

In this regard something Gardner Campbell posted recently about invention is also relevant, in particular the quotation he kicks off with:

For a great period of invention,

the artisans must become philosophers or the philosophers, artisans

quotation from Norbert Wiener’s Invention: The Care and Feeding of Ideas

I think for the Observatory and other innovation support this is a key balance – the academic and the practical informing each other without one dominating the other.

Related posts

recent posts about innovation recently:

Microsoft release Kinect SDK for Windows

A quick news post: Microsoft Research have released a non-commercial beta of their Windows SDK for the Kinect – the motion sensing controller for the XBox.

The SDK is available here:

There is perhaps a bigger discussion to be had around the role of next generation interfaces and how form-factor, input control, and haptic feedback have rapidly moved from the nice idea to the commercial mainstream and how this will impact on the role and function of technology in learning and teaching (as well as life more generally), but this release is a significant step forward in the development of gestural interfaces (One of the key tech developments in MIT’s tech review this year).

There have already been a number of interesting projects that have hacked the Kinect to run in windows and I’m looking forward to seeing what develops with a more robust, documented, and supported [perhaps?] SDK.

It’s already been used to control games, AR drones at dev8D, interactive video conferencing, and offer some forms of basic screen interactions (mouse-like and touch screen like).
For some examples:

  • It is also of note that one of the responses to this years dev challenge at Open Repositories 11 was a repository interface controlled by Kinect. [I'll post a link, screencast if I find one].