OER10 Conference

by Paul Maharg on 24/03/2010

Spent 2.5 days at the OER10 conference, Clare College, Cambridge.  Fascinating collection of papers and demos.  I was there discussing the UKCLE Simshare, with Patricia McKellar of UKCLE — slides here.  Highlights for me included Tom Browne's session on The Challenge of OER to Academic Practice.  Tom outlined some of the problems that he encountered in his institutional OER project.  Very impressed with the HumBox project.  There was too much to summarise here, so below the fold I've picked out what were form me the key issues facing the OER community (or at least the part of the community that I'm part of…)

What's interesting is the extent to which the JISC/HEA-funded OER projects, individual, institutional or subject-centre, are facing the same issues.  Knowledge and awareness of OER as a concept and approach to knowledge generation, re-purposing, etc. was central; and a number of presenters had conducted small-scale research that proved how little disciplines generally knew about OER.  Second, and linked to the first, was the necessity for community-building as part of the OER ecology, particularly post-April 2010, when our funding ceases — as we discussed in our presentation, what sort of community, how will we build, and how will we sustain it?  

Third, it's pretty clear that for all of us, we're working in an eco-system of openness that extends well beyond our projects, well beyond the OER programme itself.  Looking at the remarkable variety of it all, I was struck by the issue of convergence — how will we converge our open resources? A key issue here is meta-data, and a whole session on Wednesday revolved around this issue.  Meta-data is critical to sourcing and quick-evaluation of OER (is this resource what I'm looking for?  how can I re-purpose it for my needs?), but there's a balance to be struck as we found on the Simshare project between the  capture of all the meta-data we would ideally want, and the level of meta-data input irritation that OER donors would put up with while uploading their resources.  

Fourthly, there was little evidence of taking student experiences into account.  I raised the curious absence of students in our discussions as a comment at one session, only to be told that, well, the conference was really about staff as users & developers of OER, and OER is still in its infancy.  But infancy is where most educational learning goes on: why are we not using narratives about student learning, how OER has a positive impact on their learning and achievement, in order to focus the attention of senior management in institutions and government?  And we can take that further — why are we not co-opting students as developers of OER, rather than constructing them merely as users?  Surely we are limiting the powerfully disruptive power of OER to challenge educational hegemony?  

Finally, supply & demand… As Chris Pegler pointed out we probably need to move from supply-side issues much more to demand-led problems eg OER users re-purposing materials (in fact it seemed to me that the better projects were already working on this) — how might they actually do this?  What's required in culture-change and practice for that to happen?

Two highlights on the last day…  First, the Siyavula project, of the ISKME Group, Cynthia Jimes presenting from the project.  They used Connexions software as their OER platform — some frustrations, a lot of plusses.  Barriers – 

  • 39% of teachers don't have access to the internet at school
  • role structures, eg teachers may face resistance to becoming authorities on content and innovators.  This is the job of 'curriculum experts', apparently.  Fascinating issue — classic Stenhouse problem, where giving teachers the liberty and training to develop their own input into the curriculum is the way forward
  • openness — other teachers might not be willing to share materials (tho 78% said they would, in the project)
  • value of OER was not evident to all teachers
  • f2f was important still for motivating and sustaining group work

 In spite of these barriers, teachers were  forming exchange groups offline, which could leverage OER.  Implications: engage teachers by starting with what they know; inspire teachers to form OER communities are personal teaching challenges and pedagogical approaches; support hybrid community of practice models; integrate models of change to overcome cultural barriers.  Some good lessons here for Simshare.

Second, Steeple and Matterhorn — www.opencastproject.org and www.steeple.org.uk. Very interesting — open source project supporting the scheduling, capture, managing, encoding and delivery of educational audio and video.  

Final session was the conference panel.  Fairly predictable questions — how do we get academics using OER?  What about the ambitions of Wikiversity, an enormous global collection of university courses?  Why can't Wikiversity be as successful as Wikipedia?  As regards the latter, the issues are fairly no-brainers: problems of scale, economics, culture, perception of institutional profile and much else.  Wikipedia is completely different in ambition, activity and much else.  There are of course interesting parallels.  For instance as Clay Shirky points out (Here Comes Everybody, pp.130-5), Wikipedia is not about the harmonious exchange of like ideas.  It's built on the same processes of peer-production, peer-review and constant amendment of knowledge generation and exchange that goes on in universities.  Different processes, of course; but the principle is the same.  And it's a principle that goes to the heart of what OER10, in all its projects and activities, and by which our efforts will all be judged.  

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