Open world

During the recent meeting of the JISC eLearning Team, the JISC eLearning Consultants and the CETIS Management Team discussion inevitably turned, as it does, to the forthcoming JISC OER call and the issue of open educational resources more generally. At one stage someone began a question with:

So in this open world…

Open World happens to be the title of the collected poems of one of my favourite writers Kenneth White founder of the Institute of Geopoetics. Openness is a theme that recurs throughout his work.

A High Blue Day in Scalpay

This is the summit of contemplation
and no art can touch it
blue, so blue, the far out archipelago
and the sea shimmering, shimmering
no art can touch it, the mind can only
try to become attuned to it
to become quiet, and space itself out, to
become open and still, unworlded
knowing itself in the diamond country, in
the ultimate unlettered light.

And here is a high blue day on Scalpay (actually this is taken from Carriegreich on the other side of Kyles Scalpay.)

End of the jetty

Challenges of managing teaching and learning resources

Learning resources have not been served well by the Open Access Institutional Repositories debate, a problem that has been recognised and discussed by the JISC Repositories and Preservation Advisory Group however there are still significant issues that need to be address. This was one of the topics discussed at a recent meeting of the JISC eLearning Team, the JISC eLearning Consultants and the CETIS Management Team. Rather than focusing on a single specific technology, i.e. repositories, we should attempt to address the wider aim i.e. improved learning resource management across the sector. Repositories will have a role to play in achieving this aim, as will other technologies and solutions. The ultimate goals should be to improve teaching and learning practice.

In order to address the issue of resource management effectively we need to understand more about current working practices. It’s also important to identify institutional drivers for prioritising resource management. The JISC OER Programme is likely to have considerable impact in this area and the centrifugal force of this initiative is already apparent. There are many “Big Issues” to resolve in terms of improving the management of and opening access to educational resources. These include issues relating to policy e.g. what is the relationship between institutions, teachers, learners and the resources they create; practice e.g. how do teachers and learners create, use and interact with resources on a daily basis; and technology e.g. how can we manage large distributed collections of open educational resources, tracking, identifiers, rich metadata etc.

These are big challenges however there areas where discrete interventions could have a significant impact:

  • A landscape study of academics working practices and how they interact with educational content.
  • Widget and toolbar technologies along the lines of SWORD and FeedForward. Developing a range of tailored tools and widgets to help facilitate content creation and management workflows.
  • Search engine optimisation for teaching and learning materials.
  • Technologies to draw together distributed rich metadata to add value to existing content. E.g. drawing together comments and recommendations from applications such as flickr, youtube delicious etc.
  • Tracking technologies to monitor how open educational resources are used.

These and other related issues will continue to be debated into the new year so watch this space!

Open Educational Resources Discussion at CETIS08

Here, somewhat belatedly, is a summary of the discussions that followed the presentations at the Open Educational Resources session at CETIS 08.

Much of the discussion focused on technical issues such as infrastructure, the role of standards (or not), granularity of resources, metadata and tagging.

There appeared to be considerable support for the idea of enabling projects to make use of existing services and applications such as flickr, youtube, slideshare, etc while at the same time mandating deposit in JorumOpen. However this did lead some participants to question the role of standards in this programme and in the sector more widely. If we say that content can be released in any format and hosted by multiple applications does this mean that we are implicitly stating that open educational standards such as IMS Content Packaging are no longer relevant? Of course this is not the case at all, the real goal here is interoperability and standards still play an important role in facilitating interoperability. However there is no point in mandating the use of standards where they are inappropriate e.g. IMS CP for video of lectures. Andy Powell also made the valid point that:

…the Flickrs of this world are not devoid of standards – e.g. support for RSS “ its just that they aren’t necessarily the same standards that we have recommended for the last few years.

The role of JorumOpen was also explored and John Casey for the Jorum team gave a brief potted history of the Jorum service. John explained that, typically of the education sector more generally, Jorum has been very risk averse in the past, however JorumOpen will see a significant shift towards a more user centric approach based on Creative Commons licensing.

Despite being at pains to avoid the œM word issues relating to metadata occupied a large part of the discussion. It was generally agreed that the programme should take a light weight approach to metadata and that the focus should be on tagging rather than on the creation of formal structured metadata records. There was some support for a minimal set of tags but much less agreement as to what these should be: title, author date, institution, course, subject?? Also is it meaningful to mandate a single set of programme level tags when resources will be scattered across multiple applications such as youtube, slideshare, etc, each of while have their own tagging and metadata conventions?

This also led to a very interesting discussion on the nature of attribution, reputation and digital and academic identity. Pat Parslow, following the discussions remotely via the wonderful eFoundations live-blog suggested:

Contributing materials, and formulating correct tags/metadata helps build your Digital Identity and thus reputation. Should be a major interest for academics, surely?

Heather Williamson of JISC noted some initial findings from the current RePRODUCE programme that suggest that building online presence is an important driver for people to share resources. My colleague John Robertson has already written an excellent blog post on open educational resources, metadata and self description which I highly recommend.

Throughout these discussions David Kernohan and Amber Thomas of JISC reminded us that this programme has two goals: changing attitudes and practice and getting content out into the open. The real aim of the JISC OER programme is to change the culture around content sharing and as such it should be viewed as a œmilestone on a journey.

Patrick McAndrew of the Open Universitys OpenLearn project agreed and cautioned against letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Fear of œnot doing it right shouldnt be a barrier preventing people from opening access to their content. We can all learn as we go along.

As Andy Powell has already pointed out in his blog post on the CETIS 08 Conference the OER session generated

…a good level of debate that could have gone on significantly longer than the time allowed.

In order to enable these discussions to continue we would like to invite colleagues to use the CETIS Educational Content SIG mailing list, cetis-ecsig@jiscmail.ac.uk as a forum to raise issues, comments and questions relating to the JISC OER call specifically and open educational content issues more generally.

And last but not least here’s the wordle generated from the session’s tweets.

cetis08oer wordle