I’ve been to several of ALTs OER conferences, next week in Galway will be my third year on the trot. Last year’s conference was one of my all time favourites, as I wrote just after it, I found it challenging in making me consider aspects of OER outside of my normal thinking along with some very useful contacts and discussions about what I could contribute. I am really looking forward to travelling across to Galway for what promises to be more of the same quality in OER19. Here are my plans from the looking through the programme. Think of it as getting my reflections in first. I don’t know if this is a good idea, I mean I’m bound to offend by omission, apologies for having to miss out so much that’s good.
I spent the last couple of days in Bristol, a city I know well: I went to University there (undergrad, PhD and post doc in physics and materials science), my wife’s parents live there. I’ll be honest, meeting my friends from the OER community in a city of which I am very fond was part of what attracted me to this conference. The theme of the conference, “open to all,” with discussions about OER in the context of colonialism, was less attractive to me. Look at the rest of this blog, you’ll see I am much more comfortable talking about technical specifications, APIs and infrastructure to support the creation and dissemination of OER. Continue reading
On Monday I was at Our Dynamic Earth, by the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh, for a day meeting on the Promise of Open Education. This was the final event of the Open Educational Practices in Scotland project (OEPS), which (according to the evaluation report):
involved five universities in leading a project based in the Open University in Scotland. Its aims were to facilitate best practice in open education in Scotland, and to enhance capacity for developing publicly available online materials across the tertiary education sector in Scotland. The project particularly focused on fostering the use of open educational practices to build capacity and promote widening participation.
There have always been questions about this project, notably the funnelling of money to the OU without any sign of an open bidding process, but at least it was there. With the OEPS finishing, two things caught my attention: how do we get political support for open education, and what open educational practice is current in Scotland. To paraphrase Orwell: if there is hope, it lies in the grass roots [hmm, that didn’t end well for Winston].
I gate-crashed a lecture on copyright that Naomi Korn gave at Edinburgh University. I’ve had an interest in copyright for as long as I have been working with open access and open educational resources, about ten years. I think I understand the basic concepts pretty well, but even so Naomi managed to catch a couple of misconceptions I held and also crystallised some ideas with well chosen examples.
First, quick intro to Naomi. Naomi is a copyright consultant (but not a lawyer). I first met her through her work for UKOER, which I really liked because she gave us pragmatic advice that helped us release resources openly not just list of all the things we couldn’t do. Through that and other work Naomi & colleagues have created a set of really useful resources on copyright for OER (which are themselves openly licensed).
We are setting up a new honours degree programme which will involve use of online resources for work based blended learning. I was asked to demonstrate some the resources and approaches that might be useful. This is one of the quick examples that I was able to knock up(*) and some reflections on how Open Education helped me. By the way, I especially like the last bit about “open educational practice”. So if the rest bores you, just skip to the end. Continue reading
A book with a chapter by Lorna M Campbell and me has just been published. The book is Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss, published by Open Book Publishers.
There are contributions by people I know and look up to in the OER world, and some equally good chapters by folk I had not come across before. It seems to live up to its billing of offering an international perspective by not being US-centric (though it would be nice to see more from S America, Asia and Africa), and it provides a wide view of Open Education, not limited to Open Education Resources. There is a foreword by David Wiley, a chapter on a human rights theory for open education by the editors, one on whether emancipation through open education is theory or rhetoric by Andy Lane. Other people from the Open University’s Open Education team (Martin Weller, Beatriz de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Rebecca Pitt and Patrick McAndrew) have written about identifying categories of OER users. There are chapters on aspects such as open science, open text books, open assessment and credentials for open learning; and several case studies and reflections on open education in practice.
Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education is available under a CC:BY licence as a free PDF, as very cheap mobi or ePub, or reasonably priced soft and hard back editions. You should get a copy from the publishers.
Technology Strategies for OER
The chapter that Lorna and I wrote is an overview drawing on our experiences through the UKOER programme and our work on LRMI looking at managing the dissemination and discovery of open education resources. Here’s the abstract in full, and a link to the final submitted version of our chapter.
This chapter addresses issues around the discovery and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) by presenting a state of the art overview of technology strategies for the description and dissemination of content as OER. These technology strategies include institutional repositories and websites, subject specific repositories, sites for sharing specific types of content (such as video, images, ebooks) and general global repositories. There are also services that aggregate content from a range of collections, these may specialize by subject, region or resource type. A number of examples of these services are analyzed in terms of their scope, how they present resources, the technologies they use and how they promote and support a community of users. The variety of strategies for resource description taken by these platforms is also discussed. These range from formal machine-readable metadata to human readable text. It is argued that resource description should not be seen as a purely technical activity. Library and information professionals have much to contribute, however academics could also make a valuable contribution to open educational resource (OER) description if the established good practice of identifying the provenance and aims of scholarly works is applied to learning resources. The current rate of change among repositories is quite startling with several repositories and applications having either shut down or having changed radically in the year or so that the work on which this contribution is based took. With this in mind, the chapter concludes with a few words on sustainability.
Last week I was on a panel at Edinburgh University’s Repository Fringe event discussing sustainability and OER. As part of this I was asked to talk for ten minutes on some aspect of the subject. I don’t think I said anything of startling originality, but I must start posting to this blog again, so here are the notes I spoke from. The idea that I wanted to get over is that projects should be careful about what services they tried to set up, they (the services) should be suitable and sustainable, and in fact it might be best if they did the minimum that was necessary (which might mean not setting up a repository).
Between 2009 and 2012 Jisc and the HE Academy ran the UK Open Education Resources programme (UKOER), spending approximately £15M of Hefce funding in three phases. There were 65 projects, some with personal, institutional or discipline scope releasing resources openly, some with a remit of promoting dissemination or discoverability, and there were some related activities and services providing technical, legal, policy support, & there was Jorum: there was a mandate that OERs released through the project should be deposited in the Jorum repository. This was a time when open education was booming, as well as UKOER, funding from foundations in the US, notably Hewlett and Gates, was quite well established and EU funding was beginning. UKOER also, of course, built on previous Jisc programmes such as X4L, ReProduce, and the Repositories & preservation programme.
In many ways UKOER was a great success: a great number of resources were created or released, but also it established open education as a thing that people in UK HE talked about. It showed how to remove some of the blockers to the reuse and sharing of content for teaching and learning in HE (–especially in the use of standard CC licences with global scope rather than the vague, restrictive and expensive custom variations on “available to other UK HEIs” of previous programmes). Helped by UKOER, many UK HEIs were well placed to explore the possibilities of MOOCs. And in general showed the potential to change how HEIs engage with the wider world and to help make best use of online learning–but it’s not just about opening exciting but vague possibilities: being a means to avoid problems such as restrictive licensing, and being in position to explore new possibilities, means avoiding unnecessary costs in the future and helps to make OER financially attractive (and that’s important to sustainability). Evidence of this success: even though UKOER was largely based on HEFCE funding, there are direct connections from UKOER to the University of Edinburgh’s Open Ed initiative and (less directly) to their engagement with MOOCs.
But I am here to talk sustainability. You probably know that Jorum, the repository in to which UKOER projects were required to deposit their OERs, is closing. Also, many of the discipline-based and discovery projects were based at HE Academy subject centres, which are now gone. At the recent OER16 here, Pat Lockley suggested that OER were no longer being created. He did this based on what he sees coming in to the Solvonauts aggregator that he develops and runs. Martin Poulter showed the graph, there is a fairly dramatic drop in the number of new deposits he sees. That suggests something is not being sustained.
Let’s distinguish between sustainability and persistence: sustainability suggests to me a manageable on-going effort. The content as released may be persistent, it may still be available as released (though without some sort of sustainable effort of editing, updating, preservation it may not be much use). What else needs sustained effort? I would suggest: 1, the release of new content; 2, interest and community; 3, the services around the content (that includes repositories). I would say that UKOER did create a community interested in OER which is still pretty active. It could be larger, and less inward looking at times but for an academic community it doing quite well. New content is being released. But the services created by UKOER (and other OER initiatives) are dying. That, I think , is why Pat Lockley isn’t seeing new resources being published.
What is the lesson we should learn? Don’t create services to manage and disseminate your OERs that that require “project” level funding. Create the right services, don’t assume that what works for research outputs will work for educational resources, make sure that there is that “edit” button (or at least a make-your-own-editable-copy button). Make the best use of what is available. Use everything that is available. Use wikimedia services, but also use flickr, wordpress, youtube, itunes, vimeo,—and you may well want to create your own service to act as a “junction” between all the different places you’re putting your OERs, linking with them via their APIs for deposit and discovery. This is the basic idea behind POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.
Stefan Dietze invited me to give the keynote presentation at the pre-WWW2015 workshop Linked Learning 2015 in Florence. I’ve already posted a summary of a few of the other presentations I saw, this is a long account (from my speaker’s notes) of what I said. If you prefer you can read the abstract of my talk from the WWW2015 Companion Proceedings or look through my slides & notes on Google. This is a summary of past work at Cetis that lead to our invovement with LRMI, why we got involved, and the current status of LRMI. There’s little here that I haven’t written about before, but I think this is the first time I’ve pulled it all together in this way.
Lorna M. Campbell was co-author for the presentation; the approach I take draws heavily on her presentation from the Cetis conference session on LRMI. Most of the work that we have done on LRMI has been through our affiliation with Cetis. I’ll describe LRMI and what it has achieved presently. In general for this I want to keep things fairly basic. I don’t want to assume a great deal of knowledge about the educational standards or the specifications on which LRMI is based, not so much because I think you don’t know anything, but because, firstly I want to show what LRMI drew on, but also because whenever I talk to people about LRMI it becomes clear that different people have different starting assumptions. I want to try to make sure that we kind of align our assumptions.
LRMI prehistory and precursors
I want to start by reviewing some of what we (Lorna and I and Cetis) did before LRMI and why we got involved in it.
That means talking about metadata. Mostly metadata for the purpose of resource discovery, in order to support the reuse of educational content; we want to support the reuse of educational content in order to justify greater effort going in to the creation of better content and allowing teachers to focus on designing better educational activities. We were never interested in metadata just for its own sake, but, we felt that however good an educational resource is, if you can’t find it you can’t use it.
And we can start with the LOM, the first international standard for educational technology, designed in the late 1990’s, completed in 2002 (at least the information model was–the XML binding came a couple of years later; other serializations such as RDF were never successfully completed)
We had nothing to do with designing the LOM.
But we did promote its use, for example:
- I worked on a project called FAILTE, a resource discovery service for Engineering learning resources, which involved people with various expertise (librarians, engineering educators, learning technologists) creating what was essentially a catalogue of of LOM records.
- I was also involved in a wider initiative to facilitate similar services across all of UK HE, by creating an application profile for use by joint projects of two organisations, RDN & LTSN (RLLOMAP)
- Meanwhile Lorna was leading work to create an application profile of the LOM with UK-wide applicability (UK-LOM core)
These were fairly typical examples of LOM implementation work at that time. Also, none of them still exists.
All these involve application profiles, that is tailoring the LOM by recommending a subset of elements to use and specifying what controlled vocabularies to use to provide values for them (see metadata principles and practicalities, section IIIA). And there’s a dilemma there, or at least you have to make a compromise, between creating descriptions which make sense in a local setting and meet local needs, and getting interoperability between different implementations of the LOM.
In fact some of the initial LRMI research was a survey of how the LOM is used, looking at LOM records being exposed through OAI-PMH found that most LOM records provided very little beyond what could be provided with simple Dublin Core elements, which agreed with previous work comparing different application profiles (e.g. Goodby, 2004). (See also a similar study by Ochoa et al (2011) conducted at about the same time which focussed repositories that had been designed to use the LOM.)
Anyway, one way or another we got a lot of experience in the LOM and Lorna and I were also part of the team that created the IMS learning resource meta-data specification, especially the IMS Meta-data Best Practice Guide for IEEE 1484.12.1-2002 Standard for Learning Object Metadata, 2006 which is basically a set of guidelines for how to use the LOM.
But I wasn’t talking about the LOM in Florence. Why not? Well, IEEE LOM and IMS Metadata have their uses, and if they work for you that’s great. But I’ve also mentioned some of the problems that we faced when we tried to implement the LOM in more or less open systems: lots of effort to create each record, compromise between interoperability and addressing specific requirements. The structure of the LOM as a single XML tree-like metadata record comprising all the information about a resource does little to help you get around these problems. It also means that the standard as a whole is monolithic: the designers of the LOM had to solve the problems of how to describe IPR, technical, lifecycle issues, and others (then consider that many different resource types can be used as learning resources, and what works a technical description of a text document might not work for an image or video). Solving how to describe educational properties is quite hard enough without throwing solutions to all of these others into the same standard.
So, having learnt a lot from the LOM, we moved on hoping to find approaches to learning resource description that disaggregated the problem (at both design and implementation stages) into smaller less intimidation tasks.
I want to mention some work on Semantic technologies and what was then beginning to be called linked data that Cetis helped commission and were involved in through a working group aournd 2008 – 2009. The Semantic Technologies in Learning and Teaching Jisc mini-project / Cetis working group run by Thanassis Tiropanis et al out of the University of Southampton. The SemTech project aimed to raise the profile of semantic technologies in HE, to highlight what problems they were good at solving. The project included a survey of then-existing semantic tools & services used for education to discover what they were being used for. (they found 36, using a fairly loose definition of “semantic”.
The “five year plan” outlined by that project is worth reflecting on. Basically it suggested that exposing more data which can be used by applications, thus encouraging more data to be released (a sort of optimistic virtuous cycle), and the development of shared ontologies which yield benefits when there you have large amounts of data (Notably, it didn’t suggest spending years locked in a room coming up with the one ontology that would encompass everything before releasing any data).
The development of semantic applications for teaching and learning for HE/FE over the next 5 years could be supported in a number of steps:
- Encouraging the exposure of HE/FE repositories, VLEs, databases and existing Web 2.0 lightweight knowledge models in linked data formats. Enabling the development of learning and teaching applications that make use of linked data across HE/FE institutions; there is significant activity on linked open data to be considered
- Enabling the deployment of semantic-based searching and matching services to enhance learning. Such applications could support group formation and learning resource recommendation based on linked data. The development of ontologies to which linked data will be matched is anticipated. The specification of patterns of semantic tools and services using linked data could be fostered
- Collaborative ontology building and reasoning for pedagogical ends will be more valuable if deployed over a large volume of education related linked data where the value of searching and matching is sufficiently demonstrated. Pedagogy-aware applications making use reasoning to establish learning context and to support argumentation and critical thinking over a large linked data field could be encouraged at this stage.
Our first efforts outside of IEEE LOM were in the Dublin Core Education Application Profile Task Group , between about 2006-2011, attempting to work on a shared ontology. Meanwhile others (notably Mikael Nilsson, KTH Royal Inst Technology, Stockholm) worked to get LOM data in RDF. This work kind of fizzled out, but we did get an idea of a domain model for learning resources, which rather usefully separated the educationally relevant properties from all the others. The cloud in the middle represents any resource-type specific domain model (say one for describing videos or one for describing textual resources) to which educationally relevant properties can be added. So this diagram represents what I was saying earlier about wanting to disaggregate the problem space so that we can focus on educational matters while other domain experts focus on their specialisms.
I want to mention in passing that around this time (2008/9) work started at ISO/IEC on semantic representation of metadata for learning resources. This was kicked off in response to the IEEE LOM being submitted for ratification as an ISO standard… and it is still ongoing. We’re not involved. Cetis has done no more than comment once or twice on this work.
In fact we did very little metadata work for a while. I thought I was done with it.
At this time there was there was a an idea in educational technology circles that was encapsulated in the term #eduPunk, the idea was that lightweight personal technology could be used to support teaching and learning, a sort DIY approach to learning technology, without the constraints of large institutional, enterprise level systems–WordPress instead of the VLE, folksonomies instead of taxonomies.
In comparison to eduPunk, we were #eduProg. I’ve nothing against the virtuoso wizardry of ProgRock or a technically excellent OWL ontology, and I am not saying there is anything wrong in either. The point I am trying to make is that the interest and attention, the engagement from the Ed Tech community was not in EduProg.
The attention and engagement was in Open Educational Resources, and we supported a UK HE 3 year, £15Million programme around the release of HE resources under creative commons licences [UKOER]. Cetis provided strategic technical advice and support to the funder and to the 66 projects that released over 10,000 resources. The support include guidelines on technology approaches to the management, description and dissemination of OERs; the guidelines we gave were for lightweight dissemination technologies, minimal metadata, and putting resources where they could be found. We reflected at length on the technology approaches taken by this programme in our book Into the wild – Technology for open educational resources. We recognise the shortcomings in this approach, it’s not perfect, and some people were quite critical of it. If we had been able to point to any discovery services that were based on the LOM or any more directed approach that were unarguably successful we would have recommended it, but it seemed that Google and the open web was at least as successful as any other approach and required less effort on the part of the projects. Partly through UKOER we did see 10,000 resources and more importantly a change in culture so that using social sharing site for education became unremarkable, an I would rather have that than a few 100 perfect metadata descriptions in a repository.
As far as resource description and resource discovery is concerned I think the most important advice we gave was this:
LRMI launched in 2011. what about it got us back into educational metadata? Let’s start from first principles, and look at the motivation behind LRMI, which is to help people find resources to meet their specific needs. I’ll try to illustrate this.
Meet Pam, a school teacher. Let’s say she wants to teach a lesson about the Declaration of Arbroath.
What are her specific needs? Well, they relate to her students: their age, their abilities; to her teaching scenario: is she looking for something to use as part of a half hour lesson on a wider topic, or something that will provide a plan of work over a few lessons? introduction or revision? And there is the wider context, she’s unlikely to be teaching about the declaration of Arbroath for its own sake, more likely it will relate to some aspect of a wider curriculum, perhaps history but perhaps also something around civic engagement in Scotland, or relations between Scotland and England, or precursors to the US declaration of independence, but she will be doing so because she is following some shared curriculum or exam syllabus.
She searches Google, finds lots of resources, many of them are no more than the text of the resource.
There are also tea towels and posters.
Those that go further do not necessarily do so in a way that is suitable for her pupils. There’s a Wikipedia article but that’s not really written with school children in mind. Google doesn’t really support narrowing down Pam’s search to match her requirements such as the age and educational level of students, the time required to use in a lesson, the relevance to requirements of national curriculum or exam syllabus, so Pam is forced to look at a series of separate search services based (often) on siloed metadata [examples 1, 2, 3]. It’s worth noting that the examples show categorisation by factors such as Key Stage (i.e. educational level in the English National Curriculum), educational subject, intended educational use (e.g. revision) and others, giving hints as to what Pam might use to filter her search. Google (historically) hasn’t been especially good at this sort of filtering, partly because it cannot always work out the relevance of the text in a document.
What happened to make us think that it was worth addressing this problem was schema.org:
a joint effort, in the spirit of sitemaps.org, to improve the web by creating a structured data markup schema supported by major search engines.
- An agreed hierarchy of entity types (see right).
- An agreed vocabulary for naming the characteristics of resources and the relationships between them.
- Which can be added to HTML (as microdata, RDFa or JSON-LD) to help computers understand what the strings of text mean.
Adding schema.org markup (as microdata) to HTML, turns the code behind a web page from something like:
<h1>Learning Resource Metadata Initiative: using schema.org to describe open educational resources</h1> <p>by Phil Barker, Cetis, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University <br /> Lorna M Campbell, Cetis, Institute for Educational Cybernetics, University of Bolton. April 2014</p>
i.e. just strings, not much to hint as to which string is the authors name, which string is the title of the paper, which string is the author’s affiliation. to something like
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/ScholarlyArticle"> <h1 itemprop="name">Learning Resource Metadata Initiative: using schema.org to describe open educational resources</h1> <p itemprop="author" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person"> <span itemprop="name">Phil Barker</span>, <span itemprop="affiliation">Cetis, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University</span></p> <p itemprop="author" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person"> <span itemprop="name">Lorna M Campbell</span>, <span itemprop="affiliation">Cetis, Institute for Educational Cybernetics, University of Bolton</span></p> </div>
where the main entities and their relationships are marked and text that related to properties of those items is identified: a Scholarly Article is related to two Persons who are the authors; some of the text is the name of the Scholarly Article (i.e. its title), the names of the Persons and their affiliations. Represented graphically, we could show this information as:
An entity – relation graph identifying the types of entities, their relationships to each other and to the strings that describe significant properties.
At this point the LRMI was initiated, a 3 year project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (and later wth some additional funding from the Hewlett Foundation), managed jointly by one organisation committed to open education (Creative Commons) and another (AEP) from the commercial publishing world, with input from education,publishers and metadata experts.
I was on the technical working group. We issued a call for participation; gathered use cases; and did the usual meeting and discussing to hammer out how to meet those use cases. We worked more or less in the open,–there was an invitation only face to face meeting near the beginning (limited funding so couldn’t invite everyone) after that all the work was on open email discussion lists and conference calls. Basing the work on schema.org allowed us to leave all the generic and resource-format specific stuff for other people to handle, and we could focus just on the educational properties that we needed.
The slide on the left shows what came out. The first two properties are major relationships to other entities, and alignment to some educational framework and the intended audience, the others are mostly simple characteristics. All are defined in the LRMI specification. In a previous blog post I have attempted further explanation of the Alignment Object. Most of these were added to Schema.org in 2013, the link to licence information was added later.
Current state of LRMI and future plans.
LRMI has been implemented by a number of organisations, some with project funding to encourage uptake, others more organically. One of the nice things about piggy-backing on schema.org is that people who have never heard of LRMI are using it.
Not every organisation on this list exposes LRMI metadata in its webpages, some harvest it or create it and use it internally. The Learning Registry is especially interesting as it is a data store of information about learning resources in many different schema, which uses LRMI as JSON-LD for (many of its) descriptive records. We have reported in some depth on the various ways in which LRMI has been implemented by those projects who are funded through the initiative.
We can create a Google custom search engine that looks for the alignment object–this in itself is a good indicator that someone has considered the resource to be useful for learning; and we can add filters to find learning resources useful for specific contexts, in this case different educational levels. This helps Pam narrow down her search–at least in a proof of concept way, as they stand these are not intended to be useful services.
I would like to note the following points from these implementations:
- they exist. That’s a good first step.
- not every implementation exposes LRMI metadata, some use it internally.
- schema.org is a lightweight, loose ontology, implementation is looser.
The people implementing it tend to make mistakes. Expect to find strings where there should be a link and also find links and properties where they shouldn’t be. (see also Martin Hepp’s presentation from Ontologies to Web Ontologies and the Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology Vol. 41 No 4, “the charm of weak semantics”)
- there is no agreement on value spaces, either terms or meanings (e.g. educational level, 1st Grade, Primary 1).
The Gates funding for LRMI is now complete, and as an organization LRMI is now a task group of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. That provides us with with the mechanisms and governance required to maintain, promote, and if necessary extend the specification. It does not mean that LRMI terms are DC terms, they’re not, they’re in a different namespace. DCMI is more than a set of RDF terms, it’s a community of experts working together, and that’s what LRMI is part of. The LRMI specification is now a community specification of DCMI, conforming to the the requirements of DCMI, such as having well-maintained definitions in RDF, which align with the schema.org definitions but are independently extensible.
The planned work of task group is shown on the group wiki, and includes:
- Extending LRMI: Events? Courses?
- contributing via new schema.org extension mechanism?
- Recommended value vocabularies
- Linked data representation of educational frameworks (alignment)
(There’s also a background interest in the use of LRMI beyond the original schema.org scenario, for example as stand-alone JSON-LD or as EPUB metadata for eTextBooks)
It’s customary to allow time for the audience to ask difficult questions of the presenter. I tried to forestall that by asking the audience’s opinion on these questions:
- Does this help with the endeavour to expose lightweight linked data?
- (can you get the data out of web pages?)
- How do we encourage linked data representation of educational frameworks?
- How much goes into schema.org (or similar) or should we just reuse existing ontologies?
- Can you cope with the the quality of data that can be provided at web-scale?
Reflections on the presentation
As far as I could judge from the questions that I couldn’t answer well, the weak points in the presentation, or in LRMI may be, seem to be around gauging the level of uptake: how many pages are there out there with LRMI data on them? I don’t know. The schema.org pages for each entity show usage , for example the Alignment Object is on between 10 and 100 domains, but I do not know the size of those domains. That also misses those services that use LRMI and do not expose it in their webpages but would expose it as linked data in some other format. I suspect uptake is less than I would like, and I would like to see more.
As presenter I was happy that even after I had talked about all that for about 45 minutes, there were people who wanted to ask me questions (the forestalling tactic didn’t work), and even after that there were people who wanted to talk to me instead of going for coffee. That seems to be a good indicator that there was interest from the workshop’s audience.
Image credits: Photo of Pam Robertson, teacher, by Vgrigas (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons; reproduction of Tyninghame (1320 A.D) copy of the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, via Wikimedia Commons. Logos (Heriot-Watt, Cetis, LRMI, Semtech etc.) are property of the respective organisation. Unless noted otherwise on slide image, other images created by the authors and licensed as CC-BY.
This is a longish summary of a presentation I gave recently, covering why I was talking, the spectrum of openness, the ways of being open, the range of activities involved in education and how open things might apply to those activities. You may want to skim through until something catches your eye 🙂
Why I did this
When Marieke asked me to give a “general introduction to open education” for the Open Knowledge Foundation / LinkedUp Project Open Education Handbook booksprint I admit I was somewhat nervous. More so when I saw the invite list. I mean, I’ve worked on OERs for a few years, mostly specializing in technologies for managing their dissemination and discovery; I’ve even helped write a book about that, (which incidentally was the output of a booksprint, about which I have also written), but that only covers a small part of the OER endeavour, and OERs are only a small element in the Open Education movement, and I saw the list of invitees to the booksprint and could see names of people who knew much more than me.
However Martin Poulter then asked this on Twitter
Anyone remember who said that the way to get information on the internet is not to ask for info but to give false info? Google isn’t helping
— Martin L Poulter (@mlpoulter) August 14, 2013
and I thought why not take inspiration from that approach. I can say stuff, and if it is wrong someone will put me right; it’ll be like learning about things. I like learning things, I like Open Education and I like booksprints. So this is what I said.
I wanted to emphasize that Open Education covers a wide range of activities. It has a long history, which we can see in the name of institutions like the Open University, but has recently taken on new impetus in a new direction, not disconnected with that history, but not entirely the same. Being a bit of a reductionist, the simple way to illustrate the range of Open Education was to reflect on the extent and range of meanings of Open and the range of activities that may be involved in education.
The spectrum of openness
A couple of weeks ago this discussion on the spectrum of open passed through twitter. At one extreme you have “proprietary”, i.e. the commercially licensed use of other people’s resources covered by copyright or patents. Is this open? Well not in the sense of Open in OERs, but it is more open than material which is covered by non-disclosure agreements or trade secrets, and “fair use” or “fair dealing” may sometimes offer an exemption to needing a licence. So it makes sense to start the spectrum of openness here. Then you move to more liberal licences, say Creative Commons Licenses with ND or NC restrictions, through Share Alike to the most liberal attribution-only (CC:BY) and unrestricted (CC:0) licences. And then you pass into illegal use which ignores property rights, for personal use, for sharing (piracy) or claims that something is what it isn’t (counterfeiting).
When using, sharing and repurposing resources, teachers tend to work in the part of the spectrum spanning from proprietary through to the ignoring of property rights. It is interesting to reflect that much technical effort has been spent on facilitating the former (think Athens, Shibboleth Access Management Federation, and single sign-on solutions for identification, authentication and authorisation), political effort on legitimising some of the latter (e.g. use of orphan works, exemptions for text mining) and educational effort on avoiding what is not legitimate. One of the benefits of the OER/Open Access approach is in avoiding effort.
The ways of being open
That all focusses on open access to and use of resources, but there are other ways of being open, seen in terms such as “open development” “open practice” “open university” and even “open prison” which all have something to do with who you allow to participate in what. There is much gnashing of teeth when this sense of openness gets confused with openness of access and use; for example complaints that a standard isn’t open because it costs money or that an online course isn’t open because the resources used cannot be copied. Yes you could spend the rest of your life trying to distinguish between “open” “free” and “libre”, but in real life words don’t align with nice neat categories of meaning like that.
I don’t think participation has to be open to everyone for a process to be described as open. As with openness in access and use, openness in participation can happen to various extents: towards one end of the spectrum, participation in IMS specification development is open to anyone who pays to be a member, ISO standardization processes are open to any national standardization body; wikipedia is an obvious example of a more open approach.
This form of openness is really interesting to me because I think that through sharing the development of resources we may see an improvement in their quality. I think that the OER work to date has largely missed this. And incidentally, having a hand in the development of a resource makes someone more likely to use that resource.
Activities involved in education
I think this picture does a reasonable job of showing the range of activities that may be involved in education, and I’ll stress from the outset that they don’t all have to be, some forms of education will only involve one or two of these activities.
Running down the diagonal you have the core processes of formal education (but note well: this isn’t a waterfall project plan, I’m not saying each one happens when the other is complete): policy at a national through to institutional level on how institutions are run, for example who gets to learn what and how, and who pays for it; administration, dealing with recruitment, admissions, retention, progression, graduation, timetabling, reporting, and so on; teaching, to use an old-fashioned term to include mentoring and all non-instructivist activities around the deliberate nurturing of knowledge; learning, which may be the only necessary activity here; assessment, not just summative, but also formative and diagnostic–remember, this isn’t a waterfall; and accreditation, saying who learnt what. Around these you have academic and business topics that inform or influence these processes: politics, management studies, pedagogy, psychology, philosophy, library functions, and Human Resource functions such as recruitment and staff development.
OER interest tends to focus on the teaching, learning, assessment nexus at the middle of this picture, but Open Education should be, and is, wider. Maybe it would be useful to try to map where some of the other open endeavours fit. Open Badges, for example sit squarely on accreditation. Open Educational Practice sits somewhere around teaching and pedagogy. Open Access to research outputs sits roughly where OER does, but also with added implications to pedagogy, psychology, management and philosophy as research fields. Open research in general sits with these research fields but is also a useful way of learning. Open data is a bit tricky since it depends what you do with it, but the linked-up veni challenge submissions showed interesting ideas around library functions such as resource discovery, and around policy and administration, and learning analytics kind of comes under teaching. Similarly with Open Source Software and Open Standards, they cover pretty much everything on the main diagonal from Admin to assessment (including library). And MOOCs? well, the openness is in admission policy, so I’ve put them there. I suspect there is a missing “open learning” that sits over learning and covers informal education and much of what the original cMOOC pioneers were interested in.
Lorna and I ran a session at the CETIS conference on the topic of Open Practice and OER Sustainability, we had 10-minute presentations from ten brilliant people who have been involved in the UKOER programme each giving a view from their own perspective on the general problem of “what now that the Jisc money has gone?” It’s fruitless to try to summarise that in full, so what I will do is add links to presentations to the session page linked-to above and give my own very cursory summary of a few of the themes. Lorna has also written a summary on her own blog.
“Scratch your own itch”
One of the most telling comments on sustainability, from Julian Tenney talking about the Xerte project, was that a project would most likely be sustainable if it was about doing something that the people involved needed doing anyway. Not necessarily something that would be done anyway (though in Xerte’s case mostly it was), but definitely not something that was being done just because the money was there. I agree with a comment that was made that there is a problem with the way that Universities treat project funding in this respect (at least in research departments), always the emphasis is on chasing money, getting the next grant. There were many examples of what it might be that “needs doing anyway”, at personal, subject community, institutional, and national/sector-wide level, from the sharing of resources between humanities teachers using HumBox, extra mural studies of the Department of continuing Education at Oxford University, the institutional teaching and learning policy at Leeds Met University, FE colleges in Scotland working in ever closer union and student progression from College to University.
Nick Sheppard asked for a technical infrastructure to support these institutional and other policies. He (and others) asked for APIs and other links between repositories (and the rest of the web, I assume) so that the greatest advantage could be had for effort. Sarah Currier told us about the new offers from Mimas to make your OER effort “Jorum Powered” through a hosted repository, a web interface into Jorum, or by building custom applications using the new Jorum API.
But with technical infrastructure come technical requirements, David Kernohan was worried that these requirements are only bearable by an academic with help, and that once the Jisc funding goes that support will also go. Suzanne Hardy also touched on this.
by David Kernohan, Jisc. The teddy bear is an academic.
The concept involved here was identified by Yvonne Howard as relative advantage, the advantage of something has to be compared to the costs and the costs have to be minimised, as can be done through clever technology such as maximum use of machine created metadata.
“It’s like MOOCs stole OER’s girlfriend”
So far I’ve mentioned advantages for many people but glossed over the fact that different people will see different advantages; they don’t and for that reason they will pursue different directions, as we have seen with MOOCs. Amber Thomas of Warwick University (but yes, the same Amber as was of JISC) described MOOCs and OERs as distant cousins who used to get on but are now no longer friendly for some reason. And it’s not like the O for Open in the two really stands for the same thing, as Pat Lockley said, their open is not necessarily our open. But, he asked, what is open? a footpath through private land or a National Park with the right to roam where you please (if you can manage to get there)?
(this last photo is mine and is covered by the CC-BY licence of this blog; the others aren’t and are used according to their various licences or permissions from their creators.)