Can open stop the future?

wikipedia_politics_opennessLast week Catherine Cronin brought Alice Marwick’s review of Nathaniel Tkacz’s Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, to my attention and it’s left me with a lot of food for thought.  I haven’t had a chance to read Tkacz’s book yet but there are a couple points that I’d like to pick up on from the review, and one in particular that relates to the post I wrote recently on Jisc’s announcement that it intended to “retire” Jorum and replace it with a new “App and Content store” : Retire and Refresh: Jisc, Jorum and Open Education.

I tend to shy away from socio-political discussions about the nature of openness as I find that they often become very circular, and very contentious, very quickly.  I do agree with Tkacz and Marwick that openness is inherently political but I certainly don’t believe that openness is intrinsically neoliberal. To my mind this analysis betrays a rather US centric view of the open world and fails to take into consideration many other global expressions of openness.

If I’m interpreting Marwick correctly, Tkacz also seems to be arguing that openness must necessarily be non-hierarchical, which is an interesting perspective but not one that I wholly buy into.  While I think we need to be aware of the dangers of replicating existing hierarchical power structures in open environments, I think it’s somewhat idealistic to expect open initiatives to flourish without any power structures at all. So yes, there are hierarchical power structures inherent in Wikipedia, but I think there are many more egregious examples of openwashing out there.

The point that really struck me in Marwick’s review was the reference to Jonathan Zittrain’s 2008 book The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It  in which the author charts the evolution from generative to tethered devices.

The Future of the Internet“The PC revolution was launched with PCs that invited innovation by others. So too with the Internet. Both were generative: they were designed to accept any contribution that followed a basic set of rules (either coded for a particular operating system, or respecting the protocols of the Internet). Both overwhelmed their respective proprietary, non-generative competitors, such as the makers of stand-alone word processors and proprietary online services like CompuServe and AOL. But the future unfolding right now is very different from this past. The future is not one of generative PCs attached to a generative network. It is instead one of sterile appliances tethered to a network of control.”

The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It
Jonathan Zittrain

Marwick elaborates on the this generative – tethered dichotomy and situates it in our current technology context.

“Those in the former (generative) group allow under-the-hood tinkering, or simply messing with code, are championed by the maker movement, and run on free and open-source software. Tethered devices, on the other hand, are governed by app stores and regulated by mobile carriers: this is the iPhone model….The most successful apps of today, from Uber to Airbnb to Snapchat, are participatory and open only in the sense that anyone is free to use them and generate revenue for their owners.

Most of these apps use proprietary formats, don’t play well with others, make it difficult for users to port their content from one to another, and are resolutely closed-source.”

Open Markets, Open Projects: Wikipedia and the politics of openness
Alice E. Marwick

Now, I’m not sufficiently familiar with Zittrain’s work to know if his thinking is still considered to be current and relevant, but his warnings about a future of closed technologies tethered to a network of control, rather amplified the alarm bells that have been ringing in my head since Jisc announced the creation of their App and Content store.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the idea of an App Store sits very uneasily with my conception of open education.  Also I can’t help wondering what role, if any, open standards will play in the development of the new app store to prevent lock-in to proprietary applications and formats.

Zittrain suggested that developing community ethos is one way to “stop the future” and counter technology lockdown.

“A lockdown on PCs and a corresponding rise of tethered appliances will eliminate what today we take for granted: a world where mainstream technology can be influenced, even revolutionized, out of left field. Stopping this future depends on some wisely developed and implemented locks, along with new technologies and a community ethos that secures the keys to those locks among groups with shared norms and a sense of public purpose, rather than in the hands of a single gatekeeping entity, whether public or private.”

The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It
Jonathan Zittrain

I absolutely agree that when it comes to the development of education content and technologies we need a community ethos with shared norms and a sense of public purpose, but to my mind it’s increased openness, rather than more locks and keys that will provide this safeguard.  In the past Jisc played an important public role by fostering communities of practice, supporting the development of innovative open technologies and sharing common practice and I sincerely hope that, rather than becoming a single gatekeeper to the community’s education content and applications, it will continue to maintain this invaluable sense of public purpose.

Retire and Refresh: Jisc, Jorum and Open Education

Jorum_logo_blueYesterday Jisc announced its intention to retire Jorum in September 2016 and “refresh its open educational resources offer”.   I’ve been involved with Jorum, in one capacity or another, since 2002 when Moira Massey and Sarah McConnell at EDINA, started drafting a proposal for a repository as part of the Jisc eXchange for Learning Programme (X4L), and I’ve also been a member of the Jorum Steering group since it was set up in 2005 to help guide Jorum through its transition to service phase.

I’ve seen Jorum develop through many iterations and technical incarnations and it’s been a long and interesting journey. There have been many stumbling blocks along the way, but we’ve seen real progress and have learned a great deal about the practicalities of education resource description, discovery and management. Both the education and technology landscapes have changed fundamentally since Jorum came into being thirteen years ago and it hasn’t always been easy for the service to adapt to those changes as quickly as the sector sometimes expected.  Despite these challenges, all members of the Jorum Team, both past and present, always remained fully committed to providing a useful service to the community and have shown huge dedication to supporting their users, so I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank every one of them for their efforts.

That said, I do have some concerns about Jisc’s continued involvement in the open education space.  As a result of the Jisc / HEA UKOER Programmes and it’s many precursors, Jisc developed an enviable international reputation for open education innovation.  The fact that there is still a lively and active community of practice around UKOER is testament to the success of the programmes in raising awareness of open education and starting to embed open education practice across higher education.  There’s sill a long way to go of  course, few institutions are actually creating open educational resources in any great volume, evidence of reuse is still slim, and we have so much more to learn about how teachers and learners find, share, and use educational resources.  There is also a danger that the open education community is singing to the choir rather than preaching to the masses.  (Obligatory religious metaphor; cf John Robertson)

University of Leeds Jorum Window

University of Leeds Jorum Window

However there does seem to be a resurgence of interest in sharing resources in both the further and higher education sectors over the last year.  HE institutions are starting to explore the potential value of developing open education policy and Glasgow Caledonian University recently became the first HEI in Scotland to approve an institutional OER policy, based incidentally on a University of Leeds policy originally created as part of the UKOER programme. GCU also plan to implement their shiny new policy through the creation of an institutional OER repository based on the University of Southampton’s EdShare platform.   Leeds are still actively supporting the sharing and discovery of open educational resources through their institutional Jorum Window, a valuable service provided by Jorum that other institutions were beginning to explore. The University of Edinburgh also has an ambitious vision for open education and intends to develop frameworks to enable staff to publish and share their teaching and learning materials as OER in order to enrich the University and the sector.  In addition, the OER Conferences, now supported by ALT, continue to go from strength to strength, despite many predicting their demise once the UKOER funding ran out.

There is also increasing interest in sharing resources in the further education sector, partly as a result of the FELTAG recommendations, the full impact of which have yet to be felt.  Following an ambitious programme of regionalisation in Scotland, colleges are starting to explore the potential of sharing resources within consortia.  This may not be the fully open sharing that many in the sector aspire to, but its a good start.  There is some way to go in the FE sector before the culture of competition transforms into a culture of cooperation and collaboration and this is where the support of organisations such as Jisc and the College Development Network is invaluable.

I’m not going to comment too much on the Jisc App and Content Store yet, as it’s clearly very early days and, as with any agile development, I expect it will go through many iterations before it sees the light of day.  However I will say that talk of customers and App Stores rather concerns me as it brings to mind commercial associations that sit rather uneasily with my conception of open education.

There is still a huge amount of open education knowledge and expertise within Jisc, not just within the Jorum team, but also across their account managers, subject specialists and senior co-design managers, and I sincerely hope that Jisc will build on the invaluable expertise of their own staff and colleagues across the sector to ensure that their new refreshed approach to open education really does meet the changing digital demands of the Further and Higher Education community.

Day of Digital Ideas 2015

Digital humanities is an area that I’ve been interested in for a long time but which I haven’t had much opportunity to engage with, so earlier this week I was really excited to be able to go along to the Digital Scholarship Day of Digital Ideas at the University of Edinburgh.  In the absence of my EDINA colleague Nicola Osborne and her fabulous live blogging skills, I live tweeted the event and archived tweets, links and references in a storify here: Digital Day of Ideas 2015.  I also created a TAGS archive of tweets using Martin Hawksey’s clever Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet.

The event featured three highly engaging keynotes from Ben Schmidt, Anouk Lang, and Ruth Ahnert, and six parallel workshops covering historical map applications and OpenLayers, corpus analysis with AntConc, data visualisations with D3, Drupal for beginners, JavaSCript basics and Python for humanities research.

Humanities Data Analysis

~ Ben Schmidt, Northeastern University

Ben explored the role of data analysis in humanities and explored the methodological and social challenges presented by humanities data analysis.  He began by suggesting that in many quarters data analysis for humanities is regarded as being on a par with “poetry for physics”.  Humanities data analysis can rase deep objections from some scholars, and seem inimical to the meaning of research.  However there are many humanistic ways of thinking about data that are intrinsic to the tradition of humanities. Serendipity is important to humanities research and there is a fear that digital research negates this, however it’s not difficult to engineer serendipity into cultural data analysis.

But what if borrowing techniques from other disciplines isn’t enough? Digital humanities needs its own approaches; it needs to use data natively and humanistically, as a source of criticism rather than to “prove” things. Humanities data analysis starts with the evidence, not with the hypothesis.  The data needs to tell stories about structures, rather than individual people.   Johanan Drucker argues that what we call “data” should really be called “capta”:

Capta is “taken” actively while data is assumed to be a “given” able to be recorded and observed. From this distinction, a world of differences arises. Humanistic inquiry acknowledges the situated, partial, and constitutive character of knowledge production, the recognition that knowledge is constructed, taken, not simply given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact.

Johanna Drucker on data vs. capta

Ben went on to illustrate these assertions with a number of examples of exploratory humanities data analyses including using ngrams to trace Google books collections, building visualisations of ship movements from digitised whaling logbooks, the Hathi Trust bookworm, and exposing gendered language in teachers reviews on Rate my Teacher.  (I’ve worked with ships musters and log books for a number of years as part of our Indefatigable 1797 project, I’ve long been a fan of Ben’s whaling log visualisations which are as beautiful as they are fascinating.)

Ships tracks in black, show the outlines of the continents and the predominant tracks on the trade winds. © Ben Schmidt

Ben concluded by introducing the analogy of Borges The Garden of Forking Paths and urged us to create data gardens and labyrinths for exploration and contemplation, and to provide tools that help us to interpret the world rather than to change it

Gaps, Cracks, Keys: Digital Methods for Modernist Studies

~ Anouk Lang, University of Edinburgh

Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities

Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities

Anouk explored the difficulties and opportunities facing scholars of twentieth-century literature and culture that result from the impact of copyright restrictions on the digitisation of texts and artefacts. Due to these restrictions many modern and contemporary texts are out of digital reach.  The LitLong project highlights gaps in modernist sources caused by copyright law.  However there are cracks  in the record where digital humanities can open up chinks in the data to let in light, and we can use this data as the key to open up interesting analytic possibilities.

During her presentation Anouk referenced the Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities, situating it in reference to the Blast Manifesto, Nathan Hensley’s Big Data is Coming for Your Books, and Underwood, Long and So’s Cents and Sensibility.

By way of example, Anouk demonstrated how network analysis can be used to explore biographical texts. Biographies are curated accounts of people’s lives constructed by human and social forces and aesthetic categories. There is no such thing as raw data in digital text analysis: all the choices about data are subjective. Redrawing network maps multiple times can highlight what is durable. For example network analysis of biographical texts can reveal the gendered marginality of writers’ wives.

In conclusion, Anouk argued that digital deconstruction can be regarded as a form of close reading, and questioned how we read graphical forms such as maps and network illustrations. How do network maps challenge established forms of knowledge? They force us to stand back and question what our data is and can help us to avoid the linearity of narrative.

Closing the Net: Letter Collections & Quantitative Network Analysis

~ Ruth Ahnert, Queen Mary University of London

Ruth’s closing keynote explored the nature of complex networks and the use of mathematical models to explore their underlying characteristics.  She also provided two fascinating examples of how social network analysis techniques can be used to analyse collections of early modern letters, a set of Protestant letters (1553 – 1558) and Tudor correspondence in State Papers Online,  to reconstruct the movement of people, objects, and ideas.   She also rather chillingly compared the Tudor court’s monitoring of conspiracies and interception of letters with the contemporary surveillance activities of the NSA.

Ruth Ahnart.  Picture by Kathy Simpson, @kilmunbooks

Ruth Ahnart. Picture by Kathy Simpson, @kilmunbooks.

Ruth introduced the concept of betweenness* – the connectors that are central to sustaining a network.  Networks are temporal, they change and evolve over time as they are put under pressure.  Mary I took out identifiable hubs in the Protestant network by executing imprisoned leaders, however despite removing these hubs, the networks survived because the sustainers survived, these are the people with high betweenness.  In order to fragment a network it is necessary to remove, not the hubs or edges, but the nodes with high betweenness.

Ruth went on to introduce Eigenvector centrality which can be used to measure the quality of people’s connections in a network, and she explored the curious betweenness centrality of Edward Courteney, 1st Earl of Devon (1527 – 1556). Courteney’s social capital is quantifiable; he was typical of a character with high Eigenvector centrality, who cuts across social groups and aligned himself with powerful nodes.

In conclusion, Ruth suggested that network analysis can be used to open archives, it doesn’t presume what you’re looking for, rather it can inspire close reading by revealing patterns previously unseen by traditional humanity research.

I was certainly hugely inspired by Ruth’s presentation.  I have some passing familiarity with the concepts of network analysis and betweenness centrality from the work of Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst however this it the first time I have seen these techniques applied to historical data and the possibilities are endlessly inspiring.  One of the man aims of our Indefatigable 1797 research project is to reveal the social networks that bound together a small group of men who served on the frigate HMS Indefatigable during the French Revolutionary War.  Using traditional techniques we have pieced together these connections through an analysis of ships musters, Admiralty archives, contemporary press reports, personal letters and birth, marriage and death certificates.  We have already built up a picture of a complex and long-lived social network, but I now can’t help wondering whether a more nuanced picture of of that network might emerge through the application of social network analysis techniques.  Definitely something to think more about in the future!

Many thanks to Anouk Lang and the Digital Scholarship team for organising such a thought provoking, fun and engaging event.

* For an excellent explanation of the concept of betweeness, I can highly recommend reading Betweenness centrality – explained via twitter, featuring Tony Hirst and my former Cetis colleagues Sheila MacNeill, Wilbert Kraan, and Martin Hawksey.  It’s all about the genetically modified zombies you see…

Marvellous Monsters – thoughts on the #altc 2014 keynotes

I wasn’t able to attend the ALT Conference this year, but what with the faultless online coverage and following the back channel on twitter, I think I caught more of the conference than I often do when I’m actually there in person. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve heard all three keynotes, and I’m very glad I did, as they were all excellent.  Congratulations to the ALTC committee for putting together such a thought provoking programme.

Jeff Haywood’s opening keynote, Designing University Education for 2025 began by focusing on the positivity of open education, while adding the caveat that

“Without vision at policy level, at government and senior management level, the system will not transform.”

He acknowledged that changing higher education takes time and needs both persistence and patience, and he concluded by calling for more modest, purposeful pilots and experiments with learning technology that are designed to scale. That final point seemed to resonate with many listeners and was tweeted many times on the conference hashtag. I could help thinking that this is exactly the kind of experimentation that the Jisc development programmes used to facilitate so successfully; we need such purposeful and experimental innovation now more than ever.

Catherine Cronin’s keynote Navigating the Marvellous explored the potential of openness to bridge educational divides. Catherine framed education as a political and ethical act, urging us as educators to use our voice, and exhorting us to “Always speak, always vote.”  A timely reminder, if ever there was one.

Quoting the inimitable Jim Groom, Catherine reminded us that “openness is an ethos not a license”. Open means sharing and building community, however the restrictive nature of both space and technology can inhibit open practice; lecture theatres privilege the lecturers voice, and the privileged position of lecturers in VLEs works against building communities and mutuality.

Taking her inspiration from Seamus Heaney’s Lightenings viii, Catherine explored the different formal and informal educational and social spaces we inhabit as learners and educators, asking

“Have you ever found yourself in a learning environment so strange you are unable to breathe? Many students have.”

Open practices and the use of social media can enable us to cross educational boundaries, to overcome “othering” and to “minimise the differential in power between educators and students”.

This latter point raised an important question for me and when I asked on twitter

altc_2014

a lengthy discussion followed, with Helen Beetham arguing that while open practices may democratise participation they can not extend equal participation if learning and digital capital is unequal. Furthermore, while online spaces can disguise or level some kinds of difference and otherness, surely they amplify others? David Kernohan also suggested that social media just holds a mirror up to existing power structures.  To my mind, this is one of the most important points Catherine raised in her thoughtful and astute keynote; there are a lot of issues that need further exploration here and I very much hope we can continue this debate.

It’s hard to know what to say about Audrey Watters keynote that could begin to do it justice. We were very lucky to have Audrey present a keynote at the Cetis conference earlier this year and, if I’m honest, I did wonder how she could top such an inspirational talk. It’s fair to say that with Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monster and Teacher Machines Audrey exceeded even her own high standards. Her talk was personal, inspirational and insightful and covered everything from her own grandfather, an alumni of Bletchley Park, Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, Frankenstein’s monster, the Luddites, Skinner and Rand, by way of fairytales, poetry, storytelling and pigeon-guided missiles. I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the points Audrey raised, if you haven’t heard it already, go and listen to her keynote yourself, it’s worth an hour of anyone’s time. After all, as Audrey reminded us, quoting Hannah Arendt

“Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.”

Links

ALTC 2014
Designing University Education for 2025: balancing competing priorities (video) – Jeff Haywood
Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education (video) – Catherine Cronin
Navigating the Marvellous (Storify)
Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Teacher Machines (video) – Audrey Watters
Ed-Tech’s Monsters #ALTC (transcript)
Ed-Tech’s Monsters (Storify)

Open Education, Open Scotland – report & presentations

(Originally posted at Open Scotland)

Last week the ALT Scotland Special Interest Group hosted the second Open Scotland event, Open Education, Open Scotland at the Informatics Forum at the University of Edinburgh.  This free and open event was attended by sixty colleagues, and speakers represented every sector of Scottish education including schools, further education, higher education and government.

A recording of the event livestream, courtesy of Martin Hawksey of ALT, is available here: morning livestreamafternoon livestream, and there is a storify of tweets, links and presentations here: Open Education, Open Scotland Storify.

 Open Education, Open Scotland  – Joe Wilson, Scottish Qualifications Authority

The event was opened and introduced by Joe Wilson of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the ALT Scotland SIG.  Joe suggested that universities in Scotland are currently in a very privileged position, but warned that the relationship between learners and institutions is changing.  Meanwhile the college sector has been comprehensively restructured but there is a danger of loosing the focus on the learner in the midst of restructuring.  Joe asked where are the attempts to look at new models of assessment?  Employers want to see that rich portfolio of experience that differentiates students as individuals.  He also asked, what can we do to encourage community learning and digital participation? A  citizen without a browser is now at a disadvantage as Government moves online by default.  Joe challenged delegates to think out of the box in terms of resources, assessment, and credentials and asked how can we open up access to resources to empower disadvantaged learners?

Open Scotland, Open ALT – Maren Deepwell, ALT

Maren provided an update on ALT’s collaboration, strategy and partnerships.  With a slide of Glasgow School of Art’s now destroyed Mackintosh Library, Maren gave us a timely reminder that not all we care about is digital, people are at the heart of what ALT do.  Maren also flagged up some good examples of sharing and open practice including ALT’s ocTEL online course and the Scottish Open Education Declaration from Cetis and Open Scotland.

Scottish Government Perspectives – Colin Cook, Deputy Director of Digital Strategy, Scottish Government

Colin introduced the Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy and focused on the role of the Digital Directorate to bring coherence to digital and ICT initiatives.  The Scottish Government has a policy commitment to build a world class digital Scotland and recognises that digital participation offers an opportunity to challenge ingrained inequalities. The Government wants to provide opportunities for people to move up the digital skills pathway, but it’s important to focus on learning, not just assistance. Third sector organisations have a huge role to play due to the position of trust they have with the digitally excluded.

The government is committed to driving forward digital transformation across the public sector and recognises the need for industry partnerships with education to develop a digital skills academy.  Colin acknowledged that wider use of data is critical to the Government’s long term vision of delivering effective public services, but added that safeguards are in place to promote public confidence so that people can be comfortable with how data is being shared.

SFC and OU update –  David Beards, SFC and Ronald MacIntyre, OU

Learning technology is high on the funding council agenda at the moment.  MOOCs currently dominate the policy rhetoric, but this is well understood and the importance of pedagogy is always there in the background.  Jisc is still the biggest thing that SFC funds and they are committed to the open agenda so it is up to everyone in the sector to let Jisc know what we want them to do.

SFC is providing the Open University with £1.27 million over three years to raise awareness of open education practice and support the sector’s capacity for online pedagogy.  The new “Open Project” will develop an online hub to share best practice, produce a small number of high quality OERs of particular benefit to Scotland, and evaluate various economic models for openness.  The outputs of the project will be very much in accordance with the activities undertaken by Open Scotland over the last year.

Open Badges, Open Borders – Suzanne Scott,  Borders College

Suzanne presented Borders College’s innovative use of open badges. Borders College’s journey started with a Moodle open badges pilot but following a chance discussion with the head of human resources, the initiative has now spread. Open badges are now used to engage with staff and have replaced all staff CPD paper certificates.  The use of badges for staff has increased loyalty and attendance at CPD sessions.

Phonar Open Courses – Jonathan Worth, Coventry University

Jonathan related his experiences of rethinking the business model behind photography and opening access to his Coventry University photography course.  The course, Phonar,  expanded from 9,000 to 35,000 people over a thirteen-week period prompting a mixed response from the university.   Institutions hear “open” and they think “free”, but talk about “connected” and they see business opportunities. Connections mean networks and opportunities.  Photographs are not the product, but digital fluency is an extremely valuable product.  Jonathan also warned “If you think your product as a teacher is information, you’re going head to head with the internet. Good luck with that!”  Jonathan also introduced Phonar Nation, “The biggest youth photography class in the world”.

Exploring the Digital University – Sheila MacNeill, Glasgow Caledonian University

After our scheduled speaker was unfortunately unable to attend,  Sheila kindly agreed to step in at the last minute to talk about research she and Bill Johnson have been undertaking on exploring the digital university. Sheila presented four key themes for digital universities: digital participation, information literacy, learning environments,  and curriculum and course design. She noted that universities’ civic roles can change quite profoundly through digital technology and urged us to think about the interface of digital and physical interaction.  Sheila also referred to Edinburgh Napier University’s Digital Futures project and talked about mapping digital literacy and residency across different university services.  Wrapping up her presentation Sheila questioned whether being an open practitioner was a “luxury” or a “daily necessity” for colleagues across the sector. 

Opening GLOW – Opening GLOW – Ian Stuart and John Johnston

GLOW initially started life as a national schools intranet in 2001, now Glow is about unlocking the benefits of the internet and providing learning opportunities.  For some time GLOW seemed clunky and unworkable but in 2010 wikis and forums were added.  Identity management should be core to GLOW services and accommodating BYOD has to be part of the GLOW landscape.  John and Ian acknowledge that there’s still lots of work to do with GLOW, but also plenty room to manoeuvre and to encourage teachers to become open educators. We need to encourage teachers to open up in as many ways as possible, the technology is the easy bit, culture is harder, and we need help from folk further along the road.

The Scottish Open Education Declaration – Lorna M. Campbell, Cetis

Lorna introduced the Scottish Open Education Declaration a community initiative launched by Cetis and Open Scotland. Based on the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration, the Scottish Open Education Declaration has a wider scope as it focuses on all aspects of open education practice, not just open education resources. The declaration also includes a clause on supporting the use of open source software in education. A key aspect of the declaration is the focus on education as a public good. The declaration is an open CC licensed public draft and all colleagues are invited to contribute.  A large number of comments have already been received, points that have been raised include, changing the focus of the declaration so that technology is viewed as an enabler rather than a driver, the need for an open culture shift and the necessity of capacity building, the importance of sharing and education sectors and stronger commitments to open licensing.  The first draft will remain open for comment for another month, then comments will be edited into the document, and a second draft posted for further discussion.

Jisc RSC Scotland Open Education Joint Forum

(Cross posted from Open Scotland)

Earlier this week I was invited by Jisc RSC Scotland to attend their Open Education Joint Forum which took place at the Informatics Forum at the University of Edinburgh.  It was a very well attended event that featured a packed programme of thought provoking and  engaging presentations that highlighted a range of really inspiring open education developments.   I’ve put together a storify of the event’s lively twitter back channel here and links to all the presentations are available from Jisc RSC Scotland here.

Open Scotland

Lorna M Campbell, Cetis and Joe Wilson, SQA

I kicked of the event with a short overview of the Open Scotland before passing over to Joe who challenged the audience to share their educational resources, before talking about about the benefits of openness and calling for changing mindsets around Open Education.  Joe also reminded us that there is a real strength in Scottish education, we have dedicated and talented teaching staff and by opening up education they can shine for learning.

Joe Wilson, SQA

Joe Wilson, SQA

Massive Open Online Courses: Open education  of course?

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin Hawksey, my former Cetis colleague, now with ALT, gave an inspiring presentation that placed MOOCs in the historical context of technology innovation and asked if we are now in danger of promoting a dogmatic approach to programming and technology innovation. Martin revisited Doug Englebart’s “Mother of All Demos” which, among many other innovations, demonstrated screen sharing and videoconferencing as far back as 1968.  In education we have a tendency to get stuck in particular ways of doing things, both students and teachers have specific expectations and can be very resistant to change.

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin Hawksey, ALT

Martin highlighted some of the tools, services, platforms and applications that can be employed to deliver MOOCs.  He also reminded us that every letter of MOOC is negotiable and suggested that the issue of MOOC completion rates is irrelevant.  Open or closed is not a binary thing, but there are huge benefits to moving towards more openness.  Martin concluded by telling is all that “openness is about feeling warm inside” and that we should all “ride the waves of innovation to a more open, more relevant style of education’.  Martin has written a an excellent blog post about his presentation which you can read here: Taking on the dogmatic approach to education with a bit of ‘reclaim open digital connectedness’.

Re:Source OER Repository

Garry Cameron, Scotland’s Colleges, Jackie Graham and Sarah Currier, Mimas

Gerry spoke about the need to change hearts and minds to use and develop open educational resources and called for a clear statement and a decisive stance on open educational resources from Scottish Government. Scotland’s Colleges committed to releasing resources under Creative Commons licences.

Gerry Cameron, Scotland's Colleges

Gerry Cameron, Scotland’s Colleges

Re:Source is an OER repository for Scotland’s colleges. The open platform is here and could be used by many across the Scottish education sector but policy drivers needed.  Jisc RSc Scotland is collaborating with Scotland’s Colleges to work ona  way forward. Librarians also have a crucial role to play in developing open repositories within Scotland’s colleges.  Jackie Graham went on to demonstrate the Re:Source repository before handing over to Sarah Currier who spoke about the Jorum repository which powers Re:Source.

Jackie Graham, Re:Source

Jackie Graham, Re:Source

Blackboard xpLor

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher, Blackboard

Julie Usher began by highlighting the potential of OERs but suggested that they can be hard to find; how do you fin and evaluate OERs, link them to curricula, including assessments.  To address this problem Blackboard have developed the xpLor content repository. xpLor supports OER discover and allows content to be pulled directly into Blackboard courses.  Creative Commons is baked into xpLor repository so content can be exported with  CC licenses.

Introduction to Open Badges and OBSEG

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Open badges are a form of digital accreditation that can be displayed online.  Badges are like coats of arms, they are images that contain information and have meaning beyond the visual.  Open Badges incentivise informal, formal and work based education and break learning into manageable chunks. The Open Badges in Scottish Education Group (OBSEG), which is supported by Jisc RSC Scotland, has set up three sub-groups focusing on Learner Progress, Technology and Design and Staff Development.

Business models, MOOCs and disruptive innovation

One of the most interesting presentation I heard at the recent EADTU Conference in Paris was Variable cost minimisation (VCM) business models in higher education by Yoram Kalman of the Open University Israel.  I confess that  initially I wasn’t hugely enthused by the title and, if I’m honest, I nearly sneaked out before the presentation began :}  I’m very glad I stayed though, as Yoram gave a highly enlightening and engaging talk covering business models, disruption and MOOCs.  There’s a lot of talk about business models and disruptive innovation in higher education at the moment so it was very helpful to hear a detailed analyses of what these terms actually mean.

Here are the notes I took of Yoram’s presentation, if I’ve misrepresented or misunderstood anything, my apologies!

Disrupting higher education

Free has been disrupting industries for a long time (e.g. music, journalism, travel). Is HE the next industry to be disrupted?

What is a business model?

It is possible to summarize an organisation’s unique attributes using a small number of components.  This model provides useful insight and allows comparison of similarities and differences. Business models are not only applicable to businesses – can be apply to any type of organisation.

The language of business models may be unfamiliar to higher education but can be roughly equated as follows:

Customer, finances, industry = student, resource, sector

Business model interdependence

Business models have three components that are interdependent:

  • Customer value proposition – how do we characterise our customers and what are their needs?
  • Infrastructure – resources and processes.
  • Financial

Business model analysis shows that you cannot change one component without impacting on the others.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovations are called disruptive because they disrupt the business model.  As a result of the disruption, the business model cannot sustain itself.  Disruptive innovation is not revolutionary; disruptive innovation disrupts the business model and kills the organisation.

Very few companies have managed to survive a big change in business model.  Apple is one of the few that have done it.  Smart phones and itunes really changed Apple’s business models.

Variable cost minimization

Disruptive innovation is often made possible due to the constant reduction of ICT costs, e.g. bandwidth, storage, processing.  Often the only variable costs that can be minimized are ICT costs.

Free business models

There are many free business models which are explored in detail by Chris Anderson in his book Free (http://www.scribd.com/doc/17135767/free-by-chris-anderson)

  • Free as a method to compete with paid competitor products
  • Free product creates monetizable activity
  • Freemium
  • Free as a tool to promote reputation, e.g. OER

At this point Yoram said that he always asked his students who Facebook’s customers are?  Facebook’s customers are the advertisers, the users are the product.

The customer value proposition of higher education

The dissemination of knowledge is a social role of universities, this is a key part of the  customer value proposition for society.

MOOC business models

There are a range of business models for MOOCs:

  • Government funding for developing & running MOOCs
  • Payment for complementary services
  • Certifiaction etc

The high drop out rates form MOOCs may actually be part of the business model for traditional universities where it is beneficial for online education to be perceived as a pale substitute for “real” education.  For further exploration of MOOC business models see Money Models for MOOCs by Chrysanthos Dellarocas, Marshall Van Alstyne (http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2013/8/166304-money-models-for-moocs/fulltext)

Social implications of MOOCs

Despite the hype, it’s the privileged that benefit from MOOCs not the disadvantaged.

Worrying social implications:

  • There is no distinction between quality open distance learning (ODL) and variable cost minimisation (VCM) based ODL.  People now equate distance learning with MOOCs and this is worrying for ODL universities.
  • There is a delusion that VCM will decrease the costs of education for disadvantaged communities, this is not true as disadvantaged students need all the additional support provided by quality open and distance learning.
  • MOOC hype strengthens the naïve public perception that education = lectures + exams.
  • MOOCs can result in massive rates of failure and disempowerment, for many, the  experience of HE becomes a negative one.

cMOOCs do overcome some of these problems.

Disruptive innovation?

MOOCs are not disruptive to traditional universities, as they do not change the current business model.  The disruptor for traditional universities is what is happening to in the market place, the value of the degree and the changing requirements from industry and employers.