Thoughts on #OEPSforum14 and the Battle for Open

(Cross posted to Open Scotland.)

This rather crowded map of open education in Scotland is the product of a brief ten minute brainstorm I took part in at the launch of the Open University’s Opening Education Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project in Edinburgh last week.

open_scot_map_3

Open Education in Scotland
Contributors:  Linda Creanor, Natalie Lafferty, Heather Gibson, Peter Cannell and Lorna M. Campbell

My scribbles may not be very legible, and the geography is questionable, but even if you can’t read the text, this map does give a good impression of the sheer breadth of open education practice already taking place across all sectors of Scottish education. And it also gives a good impression of the significant task facing the OEPS project if they are to effectively engage with existing open education initiatives in Scotland. This is a point that Sheila MacNeill and Joe Wilson have already raised in two thoughtful blog posts (Stuck in the middle with…open and #Oepsforum14 #Openscot Reflections.) Though supportive of the project and enthusiastic about its potential, both Sheila and Joe have raised valid questions about how OEPS plans to support existing open practice in Scotland, and how it will construct a distinctly Scottish narrative of open education.

During a typically thought provoking presentation on The Battle for Open, Martin Weller warned us that if we don’t engage with open education practice now, we’ll be sold a packaged version of what it is. To my mind, engagement with existing open education initiatives in Scotland will be key to the success of the OEPS project. It is critical that the project engages practitioners in creating a Scottish narrative of open education, rather than delivering a packaged alternative.

 I’m not going to attempt to summarise the entire meeting, you can get a good flavour of the event from Sheila and Joe’s blog posts, this storify put together by Heather Gibson of QAA Scotland and Martin Hawksey’s TAGS archive. There are a couple of points I want to reflect on however.

The OEPS Online Hub

One of the objectives of the OEPS project is to build an “online hub to encourage and share best practice in open education”. This hub, which will be based on the OU’s existing OpenLearn Works platform, is being developed by members of the OEPS team based at the OU’s Open Media Unit in Milton Keynes. In a parallel session focused on the hub, we were asked to prioritise user stories and requirements, devised by the project team, from the perspective of practitioners and learners. The group I was part of went a bit off piste with this task and in the process raised some valid questions regarding the role of the hub.   There was some confusion as to the exact nature of the online hub, and whether it was intended to be an OER repository. One participant questioned whether there was a real need for another online repository in Scotland when we already have Jorum and Re:Source, and the uptake of centralised repositories generally is notoriously low. The project team explained that although the hub will aggregate resources from other OER collections and enable users to export content, it is not intended to compete with existing OER repositories such as Jorum and OER Commons, it’s aim is primarily to support a community of open education practitioners. While there was a suggestion that this approach sounded a little bit “if we build it they will come”, it’s reassuring to know that OEPS will be focusing on supporting practitioner communities rather than on building another platform in what is already a very crowded space. Questions were also raised regarding the users stories and requirements drafted by the project team, with one participant asking whether a requirements gathering exercise had been undertaken in Scotland to determine the sector’s specific need for an online hub.

The Thorny Issue of Funding

The second point I want to reflect on is the rather thorny issue of funding, or more precisely, the relationship between funding and open education. This is an issue that Martin Weller touched on during his Battle For Open presentation. Martin pointed out that most battles are about money, and that there is a lot of money at stake in open education. This is certainly a point I would agree with, in some quarters at least. Martin also introduced the concept of “guerrilla research” which he contrasted with traditional research as follows…

guerilla_research

from The Art of Guerilla Research by Martin Weller

While this is an attractive model, (and I <3 Beaker) I can’t help wondering how guerrilla research is supported; after all, it’s hard to “Do research” without funding at some level. And the same applies to open education, we all know that open doesn’t equal free, and that funding is required to support open education practice. Sheila MacNeill has written compellingly on this subject in her earlier blog post Open education practice, luxury item or everyday essential?  I’m not going to re-hash Sheila’s arguments, but I think there are a lots of undercurrents relating to the relationship between openness and funding that we still need to surface.

Which brings me back to the scribbled map at the top of this post. Many of the open education initiatives in Scotland are unfunded, voluntary, or funded on institutional shoestring budgets. It’s commendable that Scottish education has done so much with so little, and perhaps this is what sustainable open education practice looks like, but it does make me wonder how much more could be achieved if funding was available to support open education right across the sector. While it’s hugely encouraging that the Scottish Funding Council has made a significant investment in open education by funding the OEPS project, and I have every confidence that the project team will make a significant contribution to supporting open education practice in Scotland, I can’t help holding on to a glimmer of hope that at some stage in the future SFC will launch an open education funding call that is open to all sectors of Scottish education.

1.6 Million

Aye, weel, it’s not the result I had hoped for, but I’m still hugely proud of what Scotland has achieved. The turn out and the level of engagement and positivity has been immense. I’m proud to have voted Yes, proud of all those who campaigned so hard, I’m proud of my adopted home city of Glasgow, and of the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence.

I hope this has been a wake up call for politicians of all stripes and a welcome reminder to the people of Scotland that there is more to political engagement than Westminster and Holyrood party politics. Lets hope that we can maintain this level of positive action and political engagement and let’s make sure we all work towards to a more equitable, fair and democratic society.

If there’s one thing that rankles with me this morning though, it’s that I will continue living in a country that hosts nuclear weapons.  Perhaps it’s time I renewed my membership of CND…

ETA I rejoined CND at the weekend.  You can read their case against Trident here: No to Trident.

thistle

Hearing Voices

Earlier this evening I cast my vote in the Scottish referendum.  To be honest, I’m not sure I ever thought this day would come. I felt slightly woozy when I stepped out of the front door to walk up to our polling station.  The first step on a new journey perhaps?

I was ten years old at the time of the last referendum, two years older than my daughter is now.   My memories of growing up in the Outer Hebrides and later in Glasgow in the 1970’s and 1980’s are a jumble of images and events; The Cheviot The Stag and the Black Black Oil, the oil boom years when Stornoway was filled with Norwegians gambling impossible sums at private poker parties, Scotland’s mortifying 1978 World Cup campaign, the bitter disappointment of the 1979 referendum, the Cold War and military build up in the Western Isles, the despair and disenfranchisement of the Thatcher years and the injustice of the poll tax.

But the thing I also remember is the glimmer of hope that never quite died, and the voices that still spoke out.  I remember trespassing the NATO base, Monseigneur Bruce Kent speaking passionately for nuclear disarmament at a packed public meeting in Stornoway, I remember Peter Watkins filming our local CND meeting for his magnum opus Resan, and going to watch his banned film The War Game in a packed darkened room in the QMU at Glasgow University, I remember Dick Gaughan playing Songs for Scottish Miners at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, I remember the poll tax riots, and the Glasgow Phoenix choir singing The Red Flag at The Big Day in Glasgow in 1990 and later, I remember the day that Thatcher finally went.  I’m sure one of my colleagues in the Archaeology Department had a bottle of champagne at work that day.  I also remember the day that Donald Dewar announced “There shall be a Scottish Parliament.  I like that.”

Nelson Mandela’s quote “May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears” has been widely used by the Yes campaign, while the No campaign has been overwhelming in its negativity.  For me that’s what it’s all about, having the courage to choose hope over fear.  What has inspired me most about the referendum, is the passionate political engagement of the Scottish people and the myriad voices that have spoken up for their beliefs on both sides of the campaign. I hope that whatever result we wake up to tomorrow morning that engagement will continue and those voices will still be heard.

photo

George Square, Glasgow, 17/09/2014

OERde14 – The view from Scotland

[Cross posted to Open Scotland]

I’m delighted to have been invited to Berlin later this week to give a talk at OERde14 – The Future of Free Educational Materials.   I’ll be talking about a range of contrasting initiatives that have aimed to promote open education policy and practice in Scotland, England and Wales over the last five years, including the UKOER Programme, Open Scotland, OER Wales, the Welsh Open Education Declaration of Intent, the Scottish Open Education Declaration and the Opening Educational Practice in Scotland project. I’ll also be reflecting on the different approaches taken by these initiatives and asking what Germany can learn from the experiences of open education practitioners in the UK.

Abstract

The first and largest open education initiative in the UK was the UKOER Programme. Between 2009 and 2012 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) invested over £10 million in UKOER, and funded over 80 projects at universities throughout England. UKOER proved to be hugely successful, however only English universities were eligible to bid for funding. As a result, there was arguably less awareness of the potential benefits of open education across other sectors of UK education. That is not to say there have been no significant open education developments in other parts of the UK, simply that approaches to open education have followed different paths.

In September 2013 universities in Wales issued the Wales Open Education Declaration of Intent, which announced Welsh Universities commitment to work towards the principals of open education and in direct response, the OER Cymru project was established. In a parallel initiative, the Welsh Government established an Open Digital Learning Working Group in early 2013, which published the report Open and Online: Wales, higher education and emerging modes of learning.

Meanwhile north of the border, interest was growing around the area of Open Badges, and MOOCs had also caught the attention of Scottish Higher Education.

In order to raise awareness of open education policy and practice more widely, Cetis, SQA, Jisc RSC Scotland and the ALT Scotland SIG, came together to launch Open Scotland in early 2013. Open Scotland is an unfunded cross-sector initiative that aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education. Among other activities, Open Scotland launched the Scottish Open Education Declaration, based on the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration.

Open education in general, and MOOCS in particular, also caught the attention of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council, and in early 2014 the Funding Council announced a £1.3 million investment in open education. Rather than issue an open funding call similar to the UKOER programme, SFC allocated their funding to the Open University to establish the Opening Education Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project, which aims to facilitate best practice in open education in Scotland.

These diverse programmes represent just some of the open education initiatives that have emerged in the UK; they provide a wide range of exemplars that may be of interest and benefit to open education practitioners in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Marvellous Monsters – thoughts on the #altc 2014 keynotes

I wasn’t able to attend the ALT Conference this year, but what with the faultless online coverage and following the back channel on twitter, I think I caught more of the conference than I often do when I’m actually there in person. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve heard all three keynotes, and I’m very glad I did, as they were all excellent.  Congratulations to the ALTC committee for putting together such a thought provoking programme.

Jeff Haywood’s opening keynote, Designing University Education for 2025 began by focusing on the positivity of open education, while adding the caveat that

“Without vision at policy level, at government and senior management level, the system will not transform.”

He acknowledged that changing higher education takes time and needs both persistence and patience, and he concluded by calling for more modest, purposeful pilots and experiments with learning technology that are designed to scale. That final point seemed to resonate with many listeners and was tweeted many times on the conference hashtag. I could help thinking that this is exactly the kind of experimentation that the Jisc development programmes used to facilitate so successfully; we need such purposeful and experimental innovation now more than ever.

Catherine Cronin’s keynote Navigating the Marvellous explored the potential of openness to bridge educational divides. Catherine framed education as a political and ethical act, urging us as educators to use our voice, and exhorting us to “Always speak, always vote.”  A timely reminder, if ever there was one.

Quoting the inimitable Jim Groom, Catherine reminded us that “openness is an ethos not a license”. Open means sharing and building community, however the restrictive nature of both space and technology can inhibit open practice; lecture theatres privilege the lecturers voice, and the privileged position of lecturers in VLEs works against building communities and mutuality.

Taking her inspiration from Seamus Heaney’s Lightenings viii, Catherine explored the different formal and informal educational and social spaces we inhabit as learners and educators, asking

“Have you ever found yourself in a learning environment so strange you are unable to breathe? Many students have.”

Open practices and the use of social media can enable us to cross educational boundaries, to overcome “othering” and to “minimise the differential in power between educators and students”.

This latter point raised an important question for me and when I asked on twitter

altc_2014

a lengthy discussion followed, with Helen Beetham arguing that while open practices may democratise participation they can not extend equal participation if learning and digital capital is unequal. Furthermore, while online spaces can disguise or level some kinds of difference and otherness, surely they amplify others? David Kernohan also suggested that social media just holds a mirror up to existing power structures.  To my mind, this is one of the most important points Catherine raised in her thoughtful and astute keynote; there are a lot of issues that need further exploration here and I very much hope we can continue this debate.

It’s hard to know what to say about Audrey Watters keynote that could begin to do it justice. We were very lucky to have Audrey present a keynote at the Cetis conference earlier this year and, if I’m honest, I did wonder how she could top such an inspirational talk. It’s fair to say that with Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monster and Teacher Machines Audrey exceeded even her own high standards. Her talk was personal, inspirational and insightful and covered everything from her own grandfather, an alumni of Bletchley Park, Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, Frankenstein’s monster, the Luddites, Skinner and Rand, by way of fairytales, poetry, storytelling and pigeon-guided missiles. I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the points Audrey raised, if you haven’t heard it already, go and listen to her keynote yourself, it’s worth an hour of anyone’s time. After all, as Audrey reminded us, quoting Hannah Arendt

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.”

Links

ALTC 2014
Designing University Education for 2025: balancing competing priorities (video) – Jeff Haywood
Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education (video) – Catherine Cronin
Navigating the Marvellous (Storify)
Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Teacher Machines (video) – Audrey Watters
Ed-Tech’s Monsters #ALTC (transcript)
Ed-Tech’s Monsters (Storify)