Supporting OER Policy in Scotland

Last week I attended an interesting ALT Scotland meeting, hosted by the Centre for Learning Enhancement and Academic Development at Glasgow Caledonian University which, among other things, focused on the potential role of ALT in shaping OER policy in Scotland.

The discussion was led by Joe Wilson, SQA’s Head of New Ventures, in response to UNESCO’s OER draft declaration consultation. This consultation had previously been the focus of Sir John Daniel’s keynote “Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally” at the OER12 / OCWC Conference in Cambridge earlier this year. At the time the UK government had not responded to the UNESCO consultation, which appears to have been sent only to Westminster*. This prompted Joe to suggest that it might be useful to seek a response from the Scottish Government, with ALT potentially being an appropriate body to support this cause and to assemble Scotland wide responses on international initiatives in the area.

There certainly seemed to be considerable appetite among those present at last week’s well attended meeting to help articulate Scottish policy in the area of openness in general and open educational resources in particular.

Several participants noted that as a relatively small community, there is already a strong ethos and culture of sharing across the Scottish educational sectors, which could be harnessed for the greater good. However, although there may be enthusiasm at the grass roots level, there was also agreement that there is little awareness of the open agenda at the institutional level.

Furthermore, in terms of policy, it was suggested that there is some disparity between the UK and Scottish governments in terms of commitment to open strategy, open education and open educational resources.

David Beards of the Scottish Funding Council pointed out that the Scottish Government are already committed to promoting openness through the 2004 Scottish Declaration on Open Access which states:

“We believe that the interests of Scotland will be best served by the rapid adoption of open access to scientific and research literature.”

While this is unquestionably an admirable goal, the declaration does focus squarely on open access to scholarly research outputs. There is no mention of opening access to educational resources, or indeed to research and other data, and I can not help but be reminded of the late Rachel Heery’s astute observation to the final meeting of JISC Repositories and Preservation Advisory Group that teaching and learning resources have not been served well by scholarly works Open Access agenda as their workflows are very different.

In order to raise awareness of the open agenda at the policy level it was suggested that ALT Scotland should take positive steps to bring together institutions and non departmental public bodies to work together to ensure that open educational resources feature in Scotland’s national ICT strategy. As a first step towards this goal, the group agreed to formally establish ALT Scotland as an ALT Special Interest Group. If you’re interested in participating in these developments, or just keeping up to date, you can joint the ALT Scotland mailing list here alt-scotland@jiscmail.ac.uk.

One last thing, in an admirable example of practising what they preach, ALT have opened access to their journal Research in Learning Technology. The journal aims to:

Raise the profile of research in learning technology, encouraging research that informs good practice and contributes to the development of policy.

All journal content is freely available here: www.researchinlearningtechnology.net

* David Kernohan of JISC has helpfully pointed out that the UK government has now formally responded to the UNESCO consultation. Thanks David!

OER Rapid Innovation Catch-up

Towards the end of last week the JISC / HEA OER Rapid Innovation projects and CETIS got together for an online catch up session facilitated by Programme Manager Amber Thomas. It’s a really interesting bunch of projects and it was great to hear how everyone is getting on.

Although it’s a bit early to start identifying specific technology trends across the programme, a few themes are already starting to emerge.

Unsurprisingly several projects mentioned that they were interested in using HTML5. Martin Hawksey who has been doing PROD calls with the OER RI projects to discuss and record their technical choices, noted that four out of eight projects already interviewed listed HTML5 among the technologies they plan to use; Bebop, Developing Linked Data Infrastructures for OER, SPINDLE, and Xenith. Synote Mobile also intend to use HTML5. It’ll be interesting to see if these intentions translate into implementation or whether any of these project go on to use alternative technologies.

Another broad theme that emerged was accessibility and widening access to open educational resources. Improving Accessibility to Mathematical Teaching resources is focused on making mathematics OERs fully accessible to visually impaired students, while two projects are aiming to make audio resources more accessible to a range of users. SPINDLE aims to increase OER discoverability by using linguistic analysis to generate keywords for enriching metadata, and the project also plans to investigate semi-automated generation of full-text transcripts. While Synote Mobile will make accessible, searchable, annotated recordings available on mobile devices.

There is also some interest across the programme in the Learning Registry development and the use of paradata. The SPAWS project plans to share paradata or usage data, such as reviews, ratings, and download stats, between widget stores and are currently developing recipes for paradata verbs which they hope to contribute to the Learning Registry Paradata Cookbook. And RIDLR will test the release and harvest of contextually rich paradata via the JLeRN Experiment to the Learning Registry.

I don’t know if this really counts as a theme, but it was also interesting to note that although the Rapid Innovation programme is very much focused on short term technical development, several of the projects discussed “soft” issues relating to the use of open technology. For example the aim of the Bebop project is to develop a WordPress plugin that can be used with BuddyPress to extend an individual’s profile to re-present resources that are held on other websites such as Slideshare, Jorum, etc. However Bebop’s Joss Winn added that by focusing on individual staff profiles they hope to encourage teachers to engage with using WordPress.

It’ll be interesting to see how these themes develop as the programme progresses and which other trends will emerge.

The recording of the OER RI catch up can be found here and Martin Hawksey’s aggregation of OER RI project feeds is here.

Oh and one last thing, great to hear that projects found the technical calls with Martin to be very useful, if you haven’t made a date to talk to him yet, drop him a mail now!