Why does open matter?

Defining ‘open’ in the context of education.

This piece was originally posted as a feature on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters site.

Open education has been my passion for a number of years now so when I was invited to write a short piece on why open matters for Teaching Matters I was happy to oblige.

Before trying to explore this question, let me explain what I mean by open education.  Open education is a broad catch-all term that includes open education resources (OERs), massive open online courses (MOOCs), open education practice, open assessment practices (e.g. Open Badges), and other approaches.

In the context of education it can be difficult to pin a single definition on the word “open”.  The open in open educational resources, is different to the open in massive open online courses.

Open educational resources are digital resources used for teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, multimedia resources) that have been released under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) so they can be reused and repurposed by others.  The ability to change and adapt resources is an important aspect of the openness in OER.

MOOCs on the other hand may be free for anyone to join, but frequently the content cannot be accessed or reused outside the course. This sometimes leads to accusations of so-called “open washing”; claiming something is open when really it isn’t.

But why does “open” actually matter in education?  This question is addressed by the Scottish Open Education Declaration produced by Open Scotland, a voluntary cross sector initiative supported by the University of Edinburgh as part of their wider commitment to open education and OER.  Open education in general and OER in particular are part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development. Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens.

There is also a sound economic case for open education. Releasing publicly funded educational resources under open licences represents a return on investment on public spending. Institutions are already being mandated to publish publicly funded research outputs under open access agreements; surely there is a strong moral argument that publicly funded educational resources should be published under open licences?

I recently had an opportunity to write a more personal reflection on why I believe open matters in a contribution to the open book Cost of Freedom which aims to raise awareness of the disappearance of detained Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil.

I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open.

Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education while at the same time supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

teaching matters

#ReadAnneDiary Campaign

anna_frank-infograph1 (1)Today is World Intellectual Property Day and colleagues in Poland and the Netherlands have chosen this date to launch the #ReadAnneDiary campaign which aims to highlight the EU’s current confusing and outdated copyright framework. Readers of this blog will know how strongly I feel that important historical and cultural heritage artefacts are openly licensed and freely available to all, so this is a campaign that I am very happy to highlight and support.  It seems more critical than ever to ensure that important works like The Diary of Anne Frank are freely available for all of us to read and to learn from. 

“Recently, Anne Frank’s famous diary has been in the spotlight because of a copyright dispute about when the literary work enters the public domain. After some intricate legal calculations, it seems that the Dutch version of The Diary of Anne Frank is now in public domain (as of 2016) in Poland, but not in the Netherlands or other EU countries, due to specific aspects of their copyright laws. The patchwork of EU copyright rules are too confusing, and the public is paying the price by not having access to some of their most important creative and cultural works.

On April 26, Centrum Cyfrowe is making available a digital version of The Diary of Anne Frank at the website www.annefrank.centrumcyfrowe.pl. Unfortunately, due to the restrictive territorial rules regarding copyright, the website will only be accessible for users inside Poland. Yes, you read that right: access will be blocked for anyone attempting to view the site from outside of Poland. Why are we doing this? We’re doing it to draw attention to the absurdity of these types of copyright rules. The Diary of Anne Frank is an important historical work—published originally in Dutch in the Netherlands. It should be available in the public domain across Europe. Yet now, it will not be accessible anywhere except for Poland.”

Centrum Cyfrowe
http://www.annefrank.centrumcyfrowe.pl/

OER16: Open Culture – that was the conference that was.

So, the OER16 Open Culture Conference has been and gone and what an experience it was!  Co-chairing OER16 with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton has been an enormously rewarding experience and I owe a huge debt of thanks to everyone who volunteered their time, effort and creativity to make the conference such a success. In particular I’d like to thank our keynotes, Catherine Cronin, Emma Smith, John Scally, Jim Groom and Melissa Highton for their inspiring and thought provoking talks and, of course, the ALT team for supporting the conference and ensuring everything ran like clockwork.  I can highly recommend charing an ALT conference if you’re ever thinking about it!

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It’s too soon after the event for me to gather my thoughts and attempt to provide any kind of coherent overview so here’s a round up of the conference outputs and some of my personal highlights in lieu of something more considered.

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Me & Ada LEGO Lovelace by Stuart Cromar

And of course, my personal twitter highlight of the conference…

oer16_me_josie

 

Taxi Chic OER16 Co-Chairs Melissa Highton & Lorna Campbell by Catherine Cronin, CC BY SA

Taxi Chic
OER16 Co-Chairs Melissa Highton & Lorna Campbell
by Catherine Cronin, CC BY SA

So now it’s time to pass the torch over to the fabulous Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski, two of my favourite people working in open education today, who’ll be co-chairing OER17: The Politics of Open.  It’ll be awesome!

 

 

International Women’s Day – Acknowledging the role of Women in OER

IWD-logo-portaitjpgI was surprised and delighted to be included in a blog post from the Open Educational Practices in Scotland project today marking International Women’s DayWomen in OER.  The post celebrates some of the women the project has worked with and I’m honoured to be named alongside such influential open education practitioners as Laura Czerniewicz, Josie Fraser and my old colleague Allison Littlejohn.

The post acknowledges the potential of open education to

“…widen access to education for women and girls, enabling them to access global thought leaders and subjects that might not be available to them locally. It also provides a platform by which women and girls can share their own knowledge and experiences.

There is a role for open education to contribute to closing the gender gap now, to ensure that all genders are treated equally, to facilitate women and girls achieving their ambitions, to challenge discrimination and bias in all forms, to promote gender balanced leadership, to value contributions equally, and to create inclusive and flexible cultures.”

If I can make even a small contribution towards furthering these aims I will be very proud indeed.

University of Edinburgh approves new OER Policy

edinburgh[Cross posted to Open Scotland]

As part of its on going commitment to open education, the University of Edinburgh has recently approved a new Open Educational Resources Policy, that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience. The University is committed to supporting open and sustainable learning and teaching practices by encouraging engagement with OER within the curriculum, and supporting the development of digital literacies for both staff and students in their use of OERs.

The policy, together with supporting guidance from Open.Ed, intends to help colleagues in making informed decisions about the creation and use of open educational resources in support of the University’s OER vision. This vision builds on the history of the Edinburgh Settlement, the University’s excellence in teaching and learning, it’s unique research collections, and its civic mission.

The policy is based on University of Leeds OER Policy, which has already been adopted by the University of Greenwich and Glasgow Caledonian University. It’s interesting to note how this policy has been adapted by each institution that adopts it. The original policy describes open educational resources as

“…digitised teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released by the copyright owner under an intellectual property licence (e.g. Creative Commons) that permits their use or re-purposing (re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others.”

However Edinburgh has adapted this description to move towards a more active and inclusive definition of OER

“digital resources that are used in the context of teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, video, multimedia resources, assessment items, etc.), which have been released by the copyright holder under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) permitting their use or re-purposing (re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others.”

This definition aims to encompass the widest possible range of resources that can be used in teaching and learning, not just resources that are developed specifically for that purpose. This description acknowledges that it is often the context of use that makes a thing useful for teaching and learning, rather than some inherent property of the resource itself.

Although open licensing is central to the University’s OER vision, this is much more than a resource management policy. In order to place open education at the heart of learning and teaching strategy, the University’s OER Policy has been approved by the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee. The policy is intended to be clear and concise and to encourage participation by all. By adopting this policy, the University is demonstrating its commitment to all staff and students who wish to use and create OERs in their learning and teaching activities, and who wish to disseminate the knowledge created and curated within the University to the wider community.

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OER16 Open Culture Conference – Open as in Open

In keeping with the ethos of open education, the OER conferences have always made an effort to be as diverse, inclusive and, well, open as possible and OER16 Open Culture is no exception.

The draft conference programme has recently been announced and we’re delighted to have accepted 101 papers and panels from 29 different countries.

oer16_diversity

OER16 presenters will come from 29 countries around the world

Bearing the recent #allmalepanels meme in mind, we’re also aware of issues relating to gender balance and diversity and we’re very pleased to have almost 50/50 representation. Of over a hundred lead authors who recorded their gender along with their submission, 49% are female and 51 % male, and our keynotes are similarly balanced.

Although the University of Edinburgh is clearly a popular destination for delegates, not all of our presenters and participants are able to travel to Scotland for a wide range of reasons, so we are happy to facilitate remote presentation. One OER16 presenter Maha Bali, associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, has previously written in the Chronicle of Higher Education about her own experiences as a remote conference presenter

“I am finding more and more conferences willing to accommodate me as a virtual presenter. This is probably happening more to me than other people because of my travel restrictions (mom of a young child living halfway across the world from most conferences I want to attend and where most of my collaborators reside), coupled with my refusal to ignore the potential social capital I can gain from presenting internationally, that is different from everyday online interactions. There are many reasons why a conference might want to welcome virtual presenters (diversity and equity being two)”

Hospitality for Virtual Presenters by Maha Bali
Chronicle of Higher Education, January 26, 2016

In relation to OER16, Maha also commented:

“Presenting virtually at conferences allows me to have a voice in the field. How often do people in ed tech get to hear the perspective of Arab Muslim women who live in the Arab World? Presenting coupled with virtually connecting conversations allows me to feel more of an equal to my Western peers with whom I collaborate year-round.”

In order to ensure that OER16 is inclusive and accessible, we have aimed to keep the conference fee as low as possible for full delegates. However if cost is a genuine barrier, ALT have a small amount of limited funding available to subsidise registrations for presenters who are students, school teachers, who work in small FE institutions, adult or community education or are members of the public with a special interest in OER. Subsidised places have already been offered to fourteen presenters and applications of funding close on the 6th March.

OER16 also offers many opportunities for remote participation, the majority of which are completely open and free of charge. All five keynotes by Catherine Cronin, Jim Groom, Melissa Highton, John Scally and Emma Smith will be streamed live on ALT’s dedicated youtube channel, and will also be available to view after the conference. There will be a wide range of social media channels including twitter feeds, blogs, hang outs and internet radio broadcasts, facilitated by the ALT Open Education SIG, Radio EDUtalk, Virtually Connecting and others, which will enable remote participants to engage with and contribute to the conference. Remote participants will only be required to register their details if they wish to comment on the main conference platform hosted by ALT, although registration will be required, this facility is still free of charge, all other remote participation channels are both free and open, and yes, that really is open as in open.

Thoughts on Amazon Inspire

Earlier this week EdWeek Market Brief reported that Amazon is developing a platform to “allow schools to upload, manage, share, and discover open education resources”.  Amazon Inspire, which appears to be aimed squarely at the US K-12 education sector / market (you decide) will enable users to

“to add ratings and reviews, and to receive recommendations based on their previous selections. Educators will be able to curate open resources, self-publish material they have developed, and put a school’s entire digital library that is open and freely available online.”

Although Amazon admit they haven’t nailed down a business model to ensure the platform’s financial sustainability, harnessing the company’s formidable recommender system to sell products that complement lessons and resources, is likely to feature prominently somewhere along the line. Amazon are sufficiently confident that they can guarantee the platform’s sustainability that Andrew Joseph, vice president of strategic relations for Amazon Education stated

“We’ve made a commitment that we will never charge for this,” Joseph said, noting it will be “a completely free, open platform for free resources.”

I’m tempted to say “we’ve heard that before”, but that would be cynical of me.  And of course “free” and “open” aren’t quite the same thing, but lets come back to that in a minute.

Of course Joseph doesn’t miss an opportunity to take a pot shot at Google

“teachers spend 12 hours a week on content creation and sharing on their own,” said Joseph, using Google Drive or shared folders within a district. “If you think about those resources, they’re not all that discoverable or sharable.”

Quite.

Unsurprisingly, this announcement has already sparked considerable discussion online.  Stephen Downes was one of the first to comment on this development, noting that Amazon already has a significant presence in the education sector, providing access to tools, a grant programme and cloud services. Matt Reed of Inside Higher Ed was generally enthusiastic about the development, speculating that Amazon Inspire could do for OER what iTunes did for podcasts. He does add a note of caution though, asking

“Are they trying to kill commercial publishers? Harvest student data? Commission hagiographic treatments of the life of Jeff Bezos? Amazon isn’t known for philanthropy.”

Like many commentators Reed focuses on the potential ability of OER to reduce the astronomical cost of textbooks in the US.  While I agree that reducing the cost of textbooks is undoubtedly a Good Thing, (though of considerably less benefit to education in the UK), focusing on this as the primary benefit of OER, rather misses the much wider potential of open education. Replacing a paid thing with a free thing, is certainly good, but does little to challenge the commercialisation of the education, particularly if the free thing is being provided by a commercial behemoth. This is a point that Jim Groom raised on twitter.

And then there’s the whole issue of open and free. Will the resources hosted on Amazon Inspire really be open?  Or will they be free?  The EdWeek report makes no mention of whether resources will carry a CC licence, in fact there is no mention of licensing at all. If they don’t use CC licences can Amazon really market this as OER ? Pat Lockley thinks they can (though he did admit to cynicism.)

Whatever Amazon Inspire transpires to be, it’s certainly an interesting development at a time when the sustainability of open educational resources and OER repositories, or lack thereof, is an increasingly pressing topic.  This is an issue that Viv Rolfe, David Kernohan, Leo Havemann, Pat Lockley, Simon Thomson and I will be exploring in a panel session at OER16 called Web Today, Gone Tomorrow: How can we ensure continuing access to OERs? and I suspect it’s an issue that will surface repeatedly during the conference.  If sharing OER through web platforms such as YouTube and Flickr is already common practice, would sharing them through Amazon really be problematic?  I don’t know. Without knowing more about the platform and the business model it’s too early to judge. I can’t help feeling a bit suspicious about this though…

One final point…I was very interested to note that Amazon Inspire will be partially based on the Learning Registry, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

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