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)