The Benefits of Open Education and OER

This is a transcript of a talk I gave as part of the Open Med Project webinar series.

What is open education?

Open education is many things to many people and there’s no one hard and fast definition.

  • A practice?
  • A philosophy?
  • A movement?
  • A licensing issue?
  • A human right?
  • A buzz word?
  • A way to save money?

This is one description of the open education movement that I particularly like from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

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UNESCO OER World Congress

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Slovenia to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland at the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana.  The theme of the Congress was “OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: From Commitment to Action” and there was a strong focus on how OER can help to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”

The main output of the Congress was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan and accompanying Ministerial Statement. The Action Plan outlines 41 recommended actions in 5 key areas to mainstream OER and to help Member States to build knowledge societies and provide quality and lifelong education, and I’ll be writing a short blog psot on the Action Plan later.

It would be impossible to summarise such a diverse event in a single blog post so I just want to pick out some of my own personal impressions.

OER World Congress, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency

The first thing that struck me was that the event really lived up to its ambitions to be truly global with over 500 delegates from 111 countries present.  I attended lots of “international” and “global” events when I worked in learning technology standards development but they were always heavily dominated by delegates from the US and the global north.  I think the OER World Congress is the first event I’ve been to that actually felt genuinely global.

That made it all the more disappointing that there were so few delegates present from the UK. The only other UK participants were Joe Wilson (Open Scotland) and Leo Havemann (Open Knowledge), and there was no official representation from either the UK or Scottish Governments. Given that the UK was once at the forefront of innovative OER initiatives with the #UKOER Programme, that’s a pretty depressing state of affairs.

I heard a lot of inspiring and thought provoking talks over the course of the three days, but one that gave me pause for thought, though perhaps not for the right reasons, was Sir John Daniel summing up of a panel discussion on actions and impacts. John suggested that we have a long way to go before OER reaches the tipping point of general use and that there is a “lamentable lack of data on OER use”.  There’s certainly some truth in this, but I don’t think there has been as little progress as he seemed to be suggesting. John also argued that MOOCs have benefits over OER because they are complete courses, before going on to mention how much he enjoyed FutureLearn courses.  This seems to me to be highly debatable given that many (though admittedly not all) MOOCs are neither open nor reusable in any real sense of the word, particularly now that many platforms are time limiting access to course resources.

I was inspired however by CEO of Creative Commons Ryan Merkley’s keynote.  Ryan presented us with a clear and unambiguous message as to why OER is so important.

Ryan Merkley, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency

“We’re living in a less and less free world constantly trying to defend against restrictive copyright regimes that restrict access to creativity to those who need it. We should seek to share knowledge and lift people up, to create a more equitable world. The commons is public good, a platform for all to share and so is education but we’ve lost sight of that. Today’s education models place individual investment over public good; we pay less but we get less for what we pay and in the end we don’t own anything. The public has to pay for the same resources over and over again. Education budgets are tight, so why do we keep spending our money on things we don’t own and can’t reuse? Publicly funded educational resources should be publicly accessible.  We should all own what we pay for.  Free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and reuse that’s important. We need to put the power of open at the centre of every opportunity.  We need to transform education globally, and disrupt education models based on artificial scarcity. Left to their own devices commercial interests will build their version of the future out of the past. Our focus has to be on improving student learning not protecting old structures.”

Another inspirational moment of the Congress that really made me stop and think came at the end of the Open Data satellite meeting when Leo Havemann reminded us that

“Education should be life long and life wide and should not just have an employability focus.”

The Congress also provided a rare opportunity for members of the Open Education Working Group Advisory Board to meet face to face and I’ve written another blog post about that meeting over at the Open Ed blog.

(L-R) Cable Green, Fabio Nascimbeni, Lorna M. Campbell, Leo Havemann, Virginia Rodés and Sophie Touzé at the OER World Congress, Ljubljana.

And it was also great to meet members of the Open Med project and to pick up a copy of the Declaration du Maroc sur les Ressources Educatives Libres; the OER Morocco Declaration which is based on the Scottish Open Education Declaration.

And you can see a short interview with me talking about the Declaration and open education initiatives in Scotland and at the University of Edinburgh in this interview with Jöran Muuß-Merholz.

In Memorium Bassel Khartabil

This is my personal reflection on the devastating news that Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government in 2015. 

Qasr al Hallabat, Jordan, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Some of you will already know that before I worked in open education I used to be an archaeologist.  My main interest was the North Atlantic Iron Age and I spent a lot of time working on excavations in the Outer Hebrides where I was born and brought up.  However I also spent one memorable summer working in the South Hauran Desert in Jordan near the Syrian Border.  It was a bit of a life changing experience for me, I fell quietly in love with the Middle East and when I got back to Scotland I realised that I was stuck in a rut with my job so I decided to leave archaeology while I still loved the subject and turn my hand to something else instead.

By rather circuitous routes that something else turned out to be open education, and it’s something which I have had a deep personal and ethical commitment to for over ten years now.  I never lost my love of archaeology though and I always regretted that while I was in Jordan we didn’t cross the border into Syria to visit Palmyra and Damascus. We had one week free at the end of our fieldwork project and it was a toss up between Petra or Syria.  Petra won.  Years later I watched in horror as Syria descended into civil war and Palmyra became a battleground.  Tragic as the destruction of Palmyra has been, it pales into significance beside the huge number of lives that have been destroyed in the conflict.

Consequently, when I first came across the New Palmyra project I was really inspired.  Here was a project that used openness to capture the cultural and archaeological heritage of Syria before it’s lost forever.  What a fabulous idea.  I vaguely noted the name of Bassel Khartabil among the people involved but at the time I knew nothing more about him

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

About a year later Adam Hyde of Booksprints.net, who ran a booksprint for us at the end of the the UKOER programme, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for a book to raise awareness of the disappearance of Syrian open knowledge advocate, Creative Commons representative and active Wikimedian, Bassel Khartabil.  I was horrified to learn of Bassel’s disappearance and immediately agreed.  My contribution to the open eBook The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry is called The Open World. Since then I have talked and blogged about Bassel at every opportunity, most recently at the OER17 Conference The Politics of Open and re:publica, in order to help raise awareness of his plight.

I never met Bassel, but his story touched me deeply.  Here was a man who lost his liberty, and we now know lost his life, for doing the very same job that I am doing now. This is why openness, open knowledge, open education, open advocacy matter.

I was on holiday in Brittany when I heard about Bassel’s death via Catherine Cronin on twitter and I was deeply, deeply saddened by the news.  I still am, and I’m still struggling to express this in words. At the moment, I’m not sure I can put it better than the words I used at the end of my OER17 lightning talk Shouting from the Heart.

The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Resources

23 Things: Thing 11 & 12 Copyright and OER

First of all a confession – I can get quite emotional about copyright and licensing :’} So emotional in fact that Jane Secker’s ALT Conference keynote Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms  actually brought a wee tear to my eye.  You might think I’m making this up but it’s true, and the reason why is that copyright and licensing is ultimately about rights and freedoms and, at this point in time more than ever, what could be more important and fundamental than that?

One of the things that fascinates me about copyright is that people often hold contradictory views on it at the same time.  On the one hand there is a nebulous fear of copyright founded on the assumption that both copyright and licenses are preventative and punitive and that getting it wrong will call down the wrath of lawyers. On the other hand there’s a general assumption that anything that’s out there on the internet can be reused without permission, because if you weren’t happy with your stuff being reused you wouldn’t put it online in the first place, right?

Encouraging colleagues to engage with copyright is no easy task, it’s seen as dry and dull and vaguely threatening. However engaging colleagues with open education resources (OER) is a great way to raise awareness of both copyright an licensing.  Learning about OER can help colleagues to think about their own rights and to consider how to express, in unambiguous terms, what they will or will not allow people to do with content that have created.

The beauty of Creative Commons licenses is that they are designed to enable reuse, rather than prevent it. Admittedly CC licences are not perfect, the Non-Commercial clause is widely regarded as being particularly problematic but it’s no exaggeration to say that they have played a fundamental role in facilitating the development of open education and OER. Creative Commons licenses are now so integral to my work that I can’t imagine life without them and I can’t think of copyright without also thinking of Creative Commons.

So the task for Thing 11 & 12 is to find two CC licensed resources and then find or create an OER, so in the best traditions of Blue Peter – here’s one I prepared earlier! Two CC licensed images from flickr and the open education resource I used them in – a guest lecture for the University of Edinburgh’s Introduction to Online distance Learning Course.

Free Speech Zone by Caitlyn_and_Kara CC BY 2.0

Free Speech Zone by Caitlyn_and_Kara CC BY 2.0

Free Hugs

Gratis by Abrazo Dan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[slideshare id=67121598&doc=openedcocreation-161013120836]

The Voice of OER15

Typical.  You wait a week for an #OER15 blog post and then two come along at once!  Thanks to the folks at CADARN for this inspiring little video which really captures the spirit of the conference.  Featuring, among others, David Kernohan, Cable Green, Hayden Blackey, Josie Fraser and me.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgKuRtDRbyE]

I think I may have got rather carried away with my enthusiasm for open education in the interview :}

OER15 – Better late than never!

It’s rather late in the day to be posting an OER15 blog post, but better late than never hopefully! :} As ever it was a hugely enjoyable and inspiring conference, and as is often the case, Marieke Guy of Open Knowledge beat me to it and wrote a great summary of the conference in her blog post OER15: Window Boxes, Battles and Bandwagons.  I’m not going to try and duplicate Marieke’s fab write up but I do want to pick out a few of the highlights of the conference.

Taking OER Mainstream – Cable Green

The keynotes were excellent as always. Cable Green was in typically unequivocal form in his opening talk Taking OER Mainstream. He reminded us that in order to be considered as OER, content must be free and you must have legal rights to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute and retain it. And lest there be any ambiguity around Creative Commons licences, Cable stated that resources licensed with the No Derivatives clause are not OER.

cc_oer

Cable Green, CC BY 4.0

 Cable also touched briefly on open washing, which Audrey Watters has defined as

“having the appearance of open source and open licensing for marketing purposes while continuing proprietary practices.”

And he called Udacity out for openwasing with their Open Education Alliance, which despite the name, does not appear to be open in any sense of the word.

Cable went on to suggest that locking content behind paywalls, and restrictive licences creates “artificial scarcity in a world of abundance” and argued that it

“borders on immoral and unethical behaviour the way we spend public funds today on education. All publicly funded resources should be openly licensed by default.”

However OER is not just about saving money it’s about increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of public funding and ultimately, creating a more educated citizenry to work peaceably towards solving grand challenges.  Cable concluded by inviting comment and feedback on the draft OER Implementation Plan, which is aiming to identify the top strategic priorities for OER. You can comment directly on the document or on twitter using the hashtag #oerplan

Open Education and the Broader Policy Environment – Open Policy Network

I was delighted to be able to join a panel session with Cable immediately after his keynote, alongside fellow Open Policy Network colleagues Nicole Allen of SPARC and Alek Tarkowski of Centrum Cyfrowe Poland, discussing open education and the broader policy environment. Picking up on the themes he’d introduced in his keynote, Cable highlighted the importance of providing support to move from policy to implementation, Alek highlighted the work of the Polish open e-textbooks program and Nicole discussed what we can learn from the success of Open Access advocacy.  I particularly liked Nicole’s point that while policy plays an important role in promoting open education, it is not hugely effective in engaging students in OER; the involvement of the library can be much more important here.

Nicole Allen, Lorna M Campbell, Cable Green, Alek Tarkowski. Picture by Simon Horrocks

Nicole Allen, Lorna M Campbell, Cable Green, Alek Tarkowski. Picture by Simon Horrocks.

I presented a short case study on crowdsourcing policy from the ground up, based on our experiences of developing the Scottish Open Education Declaration. While this can be a good way to engage communities in policy development; acting on policies that are not supported by funding is challenging and pushing community policy up to government level can be difficult. However I was inspired by Alek’s comment that in Poland, they had been working on open education policy for many years before the government sat up and took notice, but when they finally did, all the groundwork had already been laid.

Kevin Mears, CC BY 4.0

Kevin Mears, CC BY 4.0

The immensely talented Kevin Mears drew this clever sketch note of our session, but I should clarify that I didn’t quite say “the time for declarations has passed”. That was a direct quote from Cable’s keynote and he was actually suggesting that we now need to move beyond declarations of intent to active implementation. This is something I absolutely agree with, declarations are a useful tool to help raise awareness of the value of open education but they are simply one step along the way and ultimately the role of policy has to be to inform and transform practice.

Open Education in Scotland

In terms of the Scottish Open Education Declaration, there would be huge value in evidencing the points of the declaration with examples of practice from across the sector, and judging by the number of colleagues who presented from Scottish institutions, there is certainly plenty of practice going on. I’m hoping to (eventually!) blog an overview of Scottish colleagues’ contribution to the conference over at Open Scotland, along with my slides from, Common Ground, a short paper I presented on open education initiatives across all sectors of Scottish education.

Thanks to Catherine Cronin for taking a rare semi-decent picture of me!

Picture by Catherine Cronin

The Spaces of Open Educational Experience – Brian Lamb

This was the first time I’d heard Brian Lamb talk and he was every bit as engaging and thought provoking as you might expect.  Brian suggested that when it comes to embracing the open web scalability, sustainability and institutional wide impact are still an issue.  One solution to this problem is that we need to build “training wheels for the open web” to help colleagues who struggle. Two initiatives that do just that are Domain of One’s Own, which provides web space to encourage colleagues at University Mary Washington to explore the creation and development of their own digital identities, and the fabulously named SPLOT! which aims to make it easy to post activity to the open web without creating accounts, or providing personal information.  One important point I learned from Brian’s presentation is that all cool developments happen over drinks 🙂 Oh and he also highlighted the excellent development work of Pat Lockley which gets him extra points in my book.

OER on Mainstreet – Josie Fraser

The theme of this years conference was Mainstreaming Open Education, and while I think we all agree that we do want to see open education as an integral component of mainstream education I confess to being slightly uneasy that we run the risk of neglecting the experience of many colleagues for whom open education practice is increasingly being pushed to the margins as a result of budget cuts, redundancy and the casualisation of teaching contracts.

Josie Fraser touched on these themes in her brilliant keynote about Leicester City Council‘s policy giving permission to school staff to openly licence the educational resources they create in the course of their work. Josie acknowledged that the mainstream can be a very normative and exclusionary place, synonymous with privilege, and tokenising rather than embracing, however it can also recognise diversity and value difference.  Digital literacy is key to engaging people so they can critically challenge their online environments.

What really inspires me about Josie’s work with Leicester City Council, it that it provides an excellent example of how open education policy really can support transformative practice. If you haven’t already listened to Josie’s keynote, I can highly recommend it. It’s worth an hour of anyone’s time.  Unless you’re a dolphin lover.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDeEZ_z8XBo]

OER16

At the end of each OER conference it’s traditional for the organisers to pass the baton to the new co-chairs and this year I’m delighted to say that the baton passed to Melissa Highton and I.  We’re honoured to announce that, for the first time ever, OER16 will take place in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh in April 2016 so watch this space!

Institute for Open Leadership – application deadline approaching

new-iol-logoEarlier this year Cetis were pleased to announce their membership of the Open Policy Network (OPN) launched by Creative Commons and partners in May.   One of the first initiatives to be announced by the OPN is the Institute for Open Leadership which aims to

“train new leaders in education, science, and public policy fields on the values and implementation of openness in licensing, policies, and practices.”

The first Institute of Open Leadership programme will run in January 2015 in the San Francisco bay area,   and applications are invited from

“Public and private sector professionals interested in openness and policy with the passion and potential to make a high impact at their institution and/or government through open policy. Emerging leaders in academia, the arts, cultural institutions, government, scientific labs, and others who are eager to become experts in open licensing, pursue new opportunities for open publishing of content and data, and directly influence policy decisions.”

Successful applicants will be required to develop an open policy project that will contribute to increasing openness within their institution and field of work.

Further information about the Institute of Open Leadership, along with details of how to apply are available here: http://openpolicynetwork.org/iol/

The closing date for applications is 30th of June 2014.

What is schema.org? Technical Briefing Paper

Last week my colleague Phil Barker and I published a new technical briefing paper What is schema.org?

schema_briefingThis briefing has been produced as part of our work with the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI). LRMI expands schema.org so that it can be used to describe educationally significant characteristics of resources. At a technical level, the first step to understanding LRMI is to understand schema.org.

What is schema.org? describes the schema.org specification for a technical audience. It is aimed at people who may want to use schema.org markup in websites or other tools, and who wish to know more about the technical approach behind schema.org and how to implement it. As such, it has relevance beyond the description of educational resources, and we hope it will be of interest to anyone describing resources on the web. Additional briefings providing an in-depth technical overview of LRMI will follow.

What is schema.org? Can be downloaded from the Cetis Publications website here http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/2014/960

About LRMI

The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and jointly lead by Creative Commons and the Association of Educational Publishers—now the 501(c)(3) arm of the Association of American Publishers—with the aim of making it easier to publish, discover and deliver high quality educational resources on the web. With input from a wide range of organisations, from both the open and commercial spheres, involved in publishing, creating and using educational resources, LRMI successfully proposed additions to schema.org (an initiative of Google, Yahoo and Bing) allowing the description of educationally important properties of resources to be marked-up in web pages in a manner that is easily understood by search engines. This enables users to create custom search engines that support the filtering of search results based on criteria such as their match to a specific part of a curriculum, the age of the students, or other relevant characteristics.

OCWC Global Twitter Highlights

I’ve made a storify of a few of my twitter highlights from the recent OCWC Global Conference in Lubljana here: OCWC Global Conference Storify.

ocwcglobal_storify

Without a doubt my twitter highlight of the entire event has to be from Peter Bryant….