Open Education Policy – blocked pipelines and infinite loops

Doesn’t time fly?  It’s almost a fortnight since I joined colleagues at what has now become an annual event in the Scottish education technology calendar; the ALT Scotland one day conference. One of the things I really like about this event is that it consistently brings together colleagues from all sectors of Scottish education to discuss issues relating to open education technology, policy and practice. The theme of this year’s event was Sharing Digital Practice and Policy in Scottish Education, and it was highly appropriate that it was hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University as they have just approved their new institutional OER policy.

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to put together a storify or write a full summary of the event, however thanks to Martin Hawksey’s fine audio visual skills you can view the entire livestream of the event on the ALT YouTube channel here: AM / PM.  I do want to pick up on one of the themes that emerged from several presentations though and that is the problem of blocked pipelines and infinite loops.

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Marion Kelt, Senior Librarian: Digital Development and Information Literacy at GCU, was the first to raise this issue in her talk about the lengthy process of getting GCU’s Open Educational Resources policy approved by the university. At one stage this involved being referred to an institutional IPR policy that she eventually discovered did not actually exist! This is just one example the kind of infinite loop it’s very easy to get drawn into when trying to introduce new policy.  Often it’s unclear which management structures within the institution have the authority to ratify new policy, particularly if that policy has evolved from the ground up. The danger is that draft documents get endlessly stuck in limbo, waiting for approval that never comes. Thankfully Marion is nothing if not persistent and after going round these loops several times she was eventually successful in getting the policy approved. GCU’s Open Educational Resources Policy, which is based on the University of Leeds‘ OER policy, can be accessed here.

Joe Wilson, of the College Development Network, highlighted a similar infinite loop. When he was appointed as Chief Executive of CDN earlier this year, Joe made it his number one priority to encourage the FE sector to sign up to the principles of the Scottish Open Eduction Declaration, an initiative he has been involved with since its inception in 2013. Joe began by taking the relevant papers to the Committee of Regional Chairs, which is composed primarily of deputy principals of colleges.  They were broadly supportive but advised taking the Declaration to the Principals’ Forum. The Principals’ Forum were also very interested and keen to do something, but they in turn suggested that it was the Government’s responsibility to take a stance on open education.  Suffice to say, while there appears to be some interest in adopting open education principals and practice in the FE sector, there are still a  lot of blockages in the pipeline. As Joe said “we’re still at the stage of I’m not going to show you mine unless you show me yours”. However I’m quite sure that if anyone has the vision and determination to clear these blockages, it’s Joe.

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Which brings me on to my own infinite loop…Earlier this year the ALT Scotland SIG Committee brought the Scottish Open Education Declaration to the attention of Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.  We were pleased to receive the following positive and encouraging response from the Higher Education and Learner Support Division.

“The Open Education Declaration and its aim at implementing wider and more equitable access to education and to lead the way in Europe is a noble initiative with potential to enhance diversity as well as many of our key aims, including widening access to education through free access to high quality education and to redraw traditional boundaries between informal and formal learning.”

In addition to highlighting the role of the Open University’s Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project, the response noted that

“SFC also funds Jisc which supports the development and use of Open Educational Resources through platforms, repositories, and projects.”

However Jisc’s recent announcement that it will be closing Jorum, the UK OER repository for higher and further education and the skills sector, and “refreshing” their approach to open educational resources, does rather beg question who, if anyone, is supporting open education in Scotland?

I have no immediate answers as to how we break out of these infinite loops and clear the blockages in policy pipelines.  Sometimes it’s a case of identifying exactly where the blockage lies, sometimes it’s more to do with identifying that one person who has both the vision, the authority and the determination to make a stand and take the decision to move things forwards.

There is one blockage I have been able to clear however.  During the meeting several colleagues asked how much longer the Scottish Open Education Declaration would be available only as a draft.  They explained that the Declaration’s draft status was preventing them from using the document to promote open education within their own institutions as the draft status meant that senior managers were unwilling to give it serious consideration.   As there have been no further comments on the Declaration since draft 0.2 was published towards the end of last year, the status of the document has now been updated from draft 0.2 to edition 1.0. Hopefully I’ll be publishing a short post on this update over at the Open Scotland blog shortly.

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