A brief report on the International Open Science Conference held in Berlin in March, presented at the University of Edinburgh Open Knowledge Network event on 28th April 2017.
The Open Science Conference held in Berlin in April was the 4th international conference sponsored by the Leibniz Research Alliance and it grew out of the former Science 2.0 Conference.
The stated aim of the Open Science Conference is to bring together three communities; the research community engaging in open science, the library community and the computer centres who maintain and run the infrastructure. Participants included researchers, librarians, practitioners, politicians, and other stakeholders. Many of the delegates I spoke to were librarians and and it was interesting to note that many of them were familiar with the work of the Digital Curation Centre here at the University, and spoke highly of the service they provide.
The conference was co located with the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP) which advises the European Commission on how to develop and implement the European Open Science policy an initiative is being led by Germany and the Netherlands.
The conference featured two days of presentations, lightning talks, poster sessions, workshops, panels and a barcamp which provided a forum to discuss putting Open Science into practice.
This year the special thematic focus of the conference was Open Educational Resources which is why I was invited along to speak. ¨ My talk Crossing the Field Boundaries looked at the interface between OER, open data and open science and our experience at the University of Edinburgh of promoting open education through the School of GeoSciences Outreach and Engagement course. Some of you may have seen Colin Graham’s talk on building student capital through student led outreach and engagement at our last Open Knowledge Network event and it was a real honour to be able to present a case study on this innovative course at such a prestigious conference. There was a lot of interest in the co-creation of learning model developed by the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Team and also in the Open Content Internship project that subsequently repurposed the student produced materials into Open Educational Resources. As a result of this presentation and a subsequent conversation at the OER17 conference a team from the University of Louvain are hoping to come to Edinburgh to learn from our experience of implementing and supporting a digital strategy for open knowledge and open education.
The first day of the conference, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, focused primarily on open science and the main themes appeared to be open science policy, the development of a European open science cloud, federated infrastructure, altmetrics and open peer review. One lengthy panel on open peer review seemed to get particularly heated but I confess I’d rather lost the thread of the argument at that point.
It was really on the second day that the agenda switched to open education. There was a panel on the impact of open education on HE and society and a couple of talks on a German OER programme the Federal government is currently funding. ¨ Dirk van Damme, Head of the Innovation at OECD in France presented the findings of the OECD commissioned report OER a catalyst for innovation in education and Marco Kalz UNESCO chair of Open Education at the OUNL also explored open education as a driver for innovation from a critical perspective. Marco acknowledged that reuse and adaptation are notoriously hard to track and measure, as are direct and indirect effects of OER. Quoting Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox’s research Marco agreed that “discussions of OER too often tend to optimism and lack of critique” and he argued that the open education field must move from being advocacy driven to become more research driven.
Two specific points struck me about the discussions around open education and OER at the Open Science Conference. The first was the tendency to conflate OER with education technology more generally, this resulted in some sweeping statements about the power of OER to transform education which rang all sorts of alarm bells. Although I don’t believe it’s necessarily beneficial to nail down the semantics of open education, it’s also unhelpful to equate OER with education technology. Similarly, it’s unrealistic to claim that OER alone can transform education, OER certainly has a role to play, but such sweeping generalization can result in raising expectations to unrealistic levels.
The second point was the repeated emphasis on the importance of quality standards to encourage OER uptake. Quality has always been a cornerstone of the European education technology landscape, but to be honest I think this is a bit of a red herring, particularly when it comes to OER. Primarily because quality is less an inherent property the resource itself and is more a result of the context of use. So for example a high quality open education resource, can be used in an inappropriate context resulting in a poor quality learning experience. Admittedly several delegates did argue this very point, but there was still more emphasis on Qualty than I think is necessarily helpful.
On a more positive note one other broad theme that emerged was recognition of the importance of bringing open science into the class room as education doesn’t just create scientists it creates citizens and I think this is one reasons why the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course case study went down so well. It was noticeable that one strand that ran through all the presentations and discussions I saw was an unshakable belief in the responsibility of open science to contribute to the global pool of open knowledge.
If you’d like to find out more about the conference most of the papers are available from the conference website here. In addition the Open Knowledge Open Education Group hosted a webinar with myself and Guido Scherp, coordinator of Leibniz Research Alliance Science 2.0 where we discussed and reflected on some of the conference themes, and you can access a recording of that webinar here.