Scottish Government Support for Open Education?

(Cross posted from Open Scotland.)

“We broadly support open licences and OER and need a serious public debate on this issue.”

~Michael Russell, MSP

This was the Minister for Education’s response to a question I put to him earlier today regarding Scottish Government support for open education policy and open licences for publicly funded educational resources in order to benefit learners, not just within Scotland, but internationally.  The Minister was speaking at the Future of Higher Education In Scotland and the UK event in Edinburgh, organised by the ESRC Fellowship Project: Higher Education, the Devolution Settlement and the Referendum on Independence.

In a wide-ranging speech outlining the Scottish Government’s vision of higher education in an independent Scotland, Russell stated that we need an education sector that can meet the challenge of new technological advancement and institutions that can fully explore the potential of new technologies for learning. MOOCs and OER have great potential to form new pathways to learning, to widen participation and promote a culture of collaborative development and reuse. Consequently a core group supported by SFC has been established to look at the benefits of OER and promote online learning resources produced by Scottish universities.  This group is composed of the Open University and the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde; UHI may also have a role to play.

While it’s hugely encouraging to hear the Minister for Education acknowledging the importance, not just of the inevitable MOOCs, but of OER and open education more generally, I have some concerns that with such a narrow group of stakeholders involved in the core group, the scope of the debate might fail to encompass the wider benefits of open education to the Scottish sector as a whole.  Open education policies and practice have the potential to benefit teachers and learner right across the sector, in schools, colleges and universities, in formal and informal learning scenarios, and to support life long learning right across the board.

As yet, no further details have been released regarding the nature of the core group activities and the level of SFC investment, so we will continue to watch these developments with interest.

I hope to able to blog a fuller summary of this event shortly, but in the meantime, Martin Hawksey has made a twitter archive of the event hashtag available here: #HEScot

A good start to 2014? MOOCs, OER and open courses

Just a fortnight in to 2014 and it’s already been an encouraging year on the open education front.   I’ve had a lightning talk on Open Scotland accepted for OER14 in Newcastle and Phil Barker and I have also had a paper on LRMI accepted for the OCWC Conference in Llubljana.

I was also very encouraged by Andy Beggan’s announcement on OER_Discuss that the University of Nottingham will be running a FutureLearn MOOC, Sustainability, Society and You, which, in Andy’s own words:

“tries to adhere closely to the aims and objectives of OERs as much as possible, and is 8 weeks long with hundreds of OERs of various types from external sources. We have also made the entire course itself available under a Creative Commons licence.”

I’ve written several posts recently about the restrictive licenses used by some commercial MOOC platform providers and their thorny relationship with OER, so it’s really encouraging to see more MOOC developers making a real commitment to openness.  There have been other examples of MOOCs based on open content and principals ofcourse, most notably the University of London’s Coursera MOOC English Common Law: Structure and Principals, which Pat Lockley has been involved in.  Other courses highlighted by list members include the University of Southampton’s Web Science: How the web is changing the world, which plans to share all it’s resources through EdShare, and Delft University of Technology’s courses on edEx which carry a CC-BY-SA-NC licence.

Andy’s announcement also sparked an interesting discussion about the Terms and Conditions adopted by FutureLearn and other MOOC platform providers and whether they supported or discouraged the use of open education resources and open education practice.  The overwhelming response from list members whose institutions have signed partnership agreements with FutureLearn is that they have been very supportive of partners who want to develop courses based on OERs and that they are keen to offer more courses using open licences, which is very good news indeed!

For the record, FutureLearn’s Terms and Conditions state:

“Certain Partner Institutions may, at their own discretion, make available certain Online Content and Courses under a Creative Commons licence (non-Commercial). Should Partner Institutions choose to do this, it will be clearly identified on the appropriate Online Content and Courses page of the Website and we acknowledge that the Creative Commons licence will override certain of these terms and conditions as appropriate. A full copy of the relevant Creative Commons licence will be available from a link at that point.”

So any decision to use  or develop openly licensed content or courses lies with the partner institutions, rather than FutureLearn itself.

There was also some discussion about the Non Commercial clause; Steve Stapleton explained that the Nottingham team contacted the rights holders of all third party content they planned to use in their MOOC and, of all those that responded, none objected to their content being used.  Pat Lockley added that the University of London had also contacted third party rights holders and that only one had refused permission for their content to be used in the Common Law MOOC.

You can follow the full thread of this discussion which includes some fascinating points about FutureLearn and Coursera’s terms and conditions (honestly, it’s much more interesting than it sounds!) and their increasingly positive approach to open education courses and content.  That has to be a good way to start the year doesn’t it?!

Norwegian Government MOOC Report and Digitization Programme

(Cross posted from Open Scotland)

Norway MOOC report

Earlier this week the Nordic OER Alliance announced that the Norwegian Government has published its first governmental report on MOOCs and the role of OER: Norwegian MOOC report: Tilrår satsing på OER!

Although the report is in Norwegian, the recommendations have helpfully been translated into English by Tore Hoel, and are copied below. Even without being able to read the entire report, it’s very encouraging to see a national government recommending further investment in innovative pedagogies, teacher and learner support and infrastructure development for technology supported learning. Amongst other recommendations, the Committee has recommended the allocation of a 15 million NOK annual grant for “research-based knowledge development and transfer of knowledge related to learning analytics”. Perhaps more significantly the Committee has also recommended a further 10 million NOK to be allocated to “pursue further development of digital literacy among staff in the higher education sector”. Enlightened thinking indeed. Additional funding has also been recommended for education technology infrastructure development in general and MOOC infrastructure in particular. The report also covers accreditation and recognition, but does not recommend a radical overhall of the current system.

The publication of the Norwegian Government’s MOOC report, comes hot on the heels of reports in the tech press earlier this month that the National Library of Norway is planning to digitise all the books in its holdings within 15 years. While the essence of this story is true, the NLN is a legal deposit library, and it does have a policy to digitise its entire collection over the course of 20 – 30 years, the initiative has actually been running since 2006, but seems to have come to the attention of the US press only recently. That aside, it’s an admirable and ambitious initiative which, together with the Government MOOC report,  speaks volumes about Norway’s commitment to openness.

Resources

Nordic OER: http://nordicoer.org/
Government MOOC Report: http://khrono.no/sites/khrono.no/files/moocutvalget_delrapport_1_13122013.pdf
National Library of Norway – Digitization Policy: http://www.nb.no/English/The-Digital-Library/Digitizing-policy
National Library of Norway – What is being digitized?: http://www.nb.no/English/The-Digital-Library/What-is-being-digitized

Government MOOC Report Recommendations

Chap. 6.2 Innovative pedagogy and quality

The Committee recommends a systematic focus on research-based knowledge development about ICT and learning.

The Committee recommends the establishment of an environment for research-based knowledge development and transfer of knowledge related to learning analytics in 2015 with an annual grant of 15 million NOK. Structure and shape must be considered in relation to current participants and funding agencies.

The Committee believes that the higher education sector has limited use of incentives at the individual level associated with the development of teaching. This does not work stimulating and motivating to adopt new technologies and new forms of learning. The Committee therefore recommends that the operative environment in general and incentives for the educational area are reviewed, both at the individual, institutional and national level. These must be connected together and clearly have the same effect.

The Committee recommends that the allocation of funding to pursue further development of digital literacy among staff in the higher education sector. The Commission proposes to allocate NOK 10 million.

The Mooc Committee recommends that the ministry appointed committee to assess competencies outside the formal education system also considers expertise developed through Mooc deal with exams and credits.

Chap. 6.3 Infrastructure for Mooc and other digital learning

The Committee believes there is a need to continue and increase national spending on technology infrastructure. The Commission proposes to increase funding for further infrastructure development for online education in general with 10 million annually and 10 million annually to develop new infrastructure for Mooc deals specifically.

The Committee recommends that there be further assessed whether it is appropriate to have a common national Mooc portal or alternative solutions are better.

Chap. 6.4 Trade and labor market skills needs

The Committee recommends that business and industry sector uses Mooc and similar offerings in skill development of the employees.

There is appropriated 10 million to further education of teachers using Mooc and similar offers. The Committee recommends that there be an additional 10 million to develop and gain experience with the use of Mooc and similar offerings in continuing education within other relevant educational fields.

Chap. 6.5 Mooc that part of the Norwegian degree system: accreditation and recognition of Mooc deals

The Committee believes that Mooc not necessitate a change of the Norwegian regulations for accreditation and recognition of subjects and topics to be included in a degree system. Mooc exams and credits from both Norwegian and foreign institutions may naturally be part of this system as it is today.

The Committee recommends that institutions utilize the room for maneuver which lies in the administration of the rules for crediting of subjects and topics to be included in a degree system, by facilitating better and smoother practices across Norwegian institutions.

The Committee recommends an assessment of whether current practices are appropriate and what can be done to strengthen the institutions’ utilization of leeway inherent in the current rules for crediting of subjects and topics to be included in a degree system.

The Committee recommends trial of admission to Mooc offerings at Norwegian institutions for applicants who do not meet the traditional requirements for admission to higher education.

Chap. 06.06 Copayment and the principle of free higher education

The Committee believes that Mooc offerings in Norway in the first place should be free.

The Committee recommends that the Ministry is undertaking a review of the rules for personal payments to institutions opportunities to claim fees for parts of a group of participants will be made clear.

Chap. 6.7 Educational support

The Committee recommends that considered whether to grant educational support to learners in Mooc and similar offers with flexible workload and duration. With similar offerings means other forms of online promotions or offers that combine online and campus education.

The Committee believes that Mooc and similar offerings outside Norway and the EU / EEA area should be considered to provide the basis for educational support.

The committee believes that the assessments of changes in education funding scheme also must asses the impact on foreign students.

Chap. 6.8 Funding of higher education

The Committee recommends that the funding system should facilitate incentives or arrangements which support the cooperation between the institutions on the development and supply of Mooc and similar offers, such as flexible ways to share the benefit of credit production.

The Committee recommends considering the introduction of an incentive for education relevance in the funding system. Cooperation between educational institutions and actors in the labor sector on Mooc and similar offers can be an indicator of such relevance.

The Committee recommends that there be annual allocation within the strategic assets of the funding, to support the development of educational content and the development of technological infrastructure for Mooc and similar offers.

A few thoughts on the launch of OERu

Last week saw the launch of the Open Educational Resource university (OERu), a UNESCO COL project coordinated by the Open Education Resource Foundation and lead by Wayne Mackintosh (PhD) Director of the OER Foundation at Otago Polytechnic.

OERu describes itself as

“an international network with a philanthropic mission to provide first-class, accessible and affordable education to everyone – no matter where they live, or what their background.”

Unlike many commercial MOOC providers, the ethos of OERu is very much on open  –  open educational resources, open educational practices , open access, open licensing, open source, open philanthropy.

oeru

Another distinctive feature of OERu is that the initiative is being promoted as a route to formal academic credit.  Depending on the individual subject, OERu courses carry varying degrees of accreditation, with some partner institutions providing optional assessments for formal academic credit.  Students have the option of engaging with courses as self directed learners, picking and choosing topics and activities that interest them; alternatively they can receive certificates for active participation, on the basis of completed activities and interactions; or they can submit their work for formal assessment by designated OERu partners on a fee for credit basis.

During the project launch at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Sir John Daniel, former president of the Commonwealth of Learning,  stated that

“The OERu will reduce the cost of higher education dramatically. I believe that radical innovations in higher education must be accompanied by particularly robust frameworks of accreditation and credentialing in order to reassure the public. It’s all very well for evangelists to promote do-it-yourself accreditation from the personal safety of CVs replete with reputable qualifications, but ordinary people want the ‘beef’ of proper recognition too.”

The OERu currently has thirty two partners from five continents, though so far there is only one UK partner, Prifysgol De Cymru, the University of South Wales.

While I fully support OERu’s commitment to open principles and practice, I’m less sure about the imperative for formal accreditation.  The jury still seems to be out as far as certification is concerned, with some MOOC providers and participants suggesting that accreditation is not the be all and end all of online learning. However it’s also notable that many first generation MOOC participants are already educated to degree level, so perhaps Sir John Daniel is making a valid point about “ordinary people’s” desire for proper recognition.  (Though characterising any group of individuals as “ordinary” rather makes me baulk.)

I also couldn’t help noticing that, although there had been quite a lot of publicity about the OERu initiative in the run up to its launch, I haven’t seen a great deal of discussion about it since.  While Creative Commons and Times Higher Education published new items about the launch, the reception on the blogosphere has been rather muted, and it barely caused a ripple in my twitter feed.  After the hype that surrounded the launch of FutureLearn, and the distinctly hostile reception that Coursera founder Andrew Ng received during his Open Education Conference keynote earlier this week, it’s perhaps unsurprising that ed tech commentators are becoming distinctly jaded about yet another new / innovative / disruptive startup that will revolutionise online education as we know it.  If that is the case, then it’s unfortunate for OERu, as I think it’s a very welcome addition to the online learning / MOOC landscape, and if it really does stick to its open principals the it is is certainly to be applauded.