Tag Archives: oer

#OER18 Open to all

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.

Two sides of a a quadrangle of small, 17th Cent., pink. terraced cottages.
Merchant Venturers’ alms houses, Bristol, photo by Eirian Evans, via wikimedia commons, Licence CC:BY-SA

Bristol has a dark history. Like many towns and cities in Britain, it was built on the slave trade. Bristol more directly than others. I stayed at the Merchant Venturers’ Alms houses, built with the money of Edward Colston, a Bristolian “philanthropist and slavetrader” [wikipedia]. There has been a lot of debate in Bristol about whether Colston’s name should still be commemorated in cultural venues and schools. I would recommend the Almshouses to anyone who wanted to stay in an apartment in a lively part of town as an alternative to run of the mill corporate hotels.

At the conference, I did get my hoped-for catch up with old friends and chance to meet new friends, I got the chance to talk with people about technical platforms and interoperabilty of eTextBooks and infrastructure for disseminating OER. That much was expected. I share some of Lorna Campbell‘s background, and I think that she encapsulated the UK OER (#UKOER?) movement superbly in her opening keynote.

The unexpected pleasure was how much I enjoyed and learned from the contributions of Momodou Sallah (keynote),  Nick Baker (paper) and Taskeen Adam (contribution to closing plenary), and Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin (& many others  in a discussion session). These people are all great communicators, talking about issues (colonialism, politics of OER in the global south, ideas of openness and availability of education from non-western cultures) that are not part of my background. I could have been out of my comfort zone, but they made me feel comfortable. I wish that many involved in science communication would learn from this.

We need to talk about the role of right-wing libertarian wingnuts in open

A plaque on tree reading Caucasian Wingnut [latin name] pterocarya fraxinifolia
Caucasian wingnut sign, by Ian Poellet via wikimedia commons, Licence CC:BY-SA
I mean that photo of Eric S. Raymond, keyboard in one hand, gun in the other, shown by David Wiley during his keynote [edit: for those who weren’t there, Wiley was commending Raymond’s work]. Look at what wikipedia says about Raymond’s political views. If you haven’t followed any links so far (I see the WordPress logs, I know you don’t) follow that one and come back.

If you just read the opening sentence of that section

“Raymond is a member of the Libertarian Party. He is a gun rights advocate…”

go back and read the rest. Read the bit about

Raymond accused the Ada Initiative and other women in tech groups of attempting to entrap male open source leaders and accuse them of rape…”,

and the bit about

Raymond is also known for claiming that “Gays experimented with unfettered promiscuity in the 1970s and got AIDS as a consequence…”

and so on.

I have read the Cathedral and the Bazaar, I do know Raymond’s contribution to open source software. Even coming from a background in materials science, I do understand concepts like the genetic fallacy and wrongness of ad hominem attacks. And I do not think we should be recommending this person’s work to the OER community.

PressBooks and ePub as an OER format.

PressBooks does a reasonable job of importing ePub, so that ePub can be used as a portable format for open text books. But, of course, there are limits.

I have been really impressed with PressBooks, the extension to WordPress for authoring eBooks. Like WordPress it is available as a hosted service from PressBooks.com and to host yourself from PressBooks.org. I have been using the latter for a few months. It looks like a great way of authoring, hosting, using, and distributing open books. Reports like this from Steel Wagstaff about Publishing Open Textbooks at UW-Madison really show the possibilities for education that open up if you do that. There you can read what work Steel and others have been doing around PressBooks for authoring open textbooks, with interaction (using hypothe.is, and h5p), connections to their VLE (LTI), and responsible learning analytics (xAPI).

PressBooks also supports replication of content from one PressBook install to another, which is great, but what is even greater is support of import from other content creation systems. We’re not wanting monoculture here.

Open text books are, of course, a type of Open Educational Resource, and so when thinking about PressBooks as a platform for open text books you’re also thinking about PressBooks and OER. So what aspects of text-books-as-OER does PressBooks support? What aspects should it support?

OER: DERPable, 5Rs & ALMS

Frameworks for thinking about requirements for openness in educational resources go back to the very start of the OER movement. Back in the early 2000s, when JISC was thinking about repositories and Learning Objects as ways of sharing educational resources, Charles Duncan used to talk about the need for resources to be DERPable: Discoverable, Editable, Repurposable and Portable. At about the same time in the US, David Wiley was defining Open Content in terms of four, later five Rs and ALMS. The five Rs are well known: the permissions to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. ALMS is a less memorable, more tortured acronym, relating to technical choices that affect openness in practice. The choices relate to: Access to editing tools, the Level of expertise required to use these tools, the content being Meaningfully editable, and being Self-sourced (i.e. there not being separate source and distribution files).

Portability of ePub and editing in PressBooks

I tend to approach these terms back to front: I am interested in portable formats for disseminating resources, and systems that allow these to be edited. For eBooks / open textbooks my format of choice for portability is currently ePub, which is essentially HTML and other assets (images, stylesheets, etc.) with metadata, in a zip archive. Being HTML-based, ePub is largely self-sourced, and can be edited with suitable tools (though there may be caveats around some of the other assets such as images and diagrams). Furthermore, WordPress in general and PressBooks specifically makes editing, repurposing and distributing easy without requiring knowledge of HTML. It’s a good platform for remixing, revising, reusing, retaining content. And the key to this whole ramble of a blog post is the ‘import from ePub‘ feature.

So how does  the combination of ePub and PressBooks work in practice. I can go to OpenStax, and download one of their text books as ePub. As far as I can see the best-known open textbook project doesn’t seem to make ePub available (Apple’s iPub is similar, but I don’t do iBooks so couldn’t download one). So I went to Siyavula and downloaded one of their CC:BY textbooks as an ePub. Chose that download for import into PressBooks and got a screen that lets me choose which parts of the ePub to import and what type of content to import it as.

List of sections of the ePub with tick box for whether to import in PressBooks, and radio button options for what type of book part to import as

After choosing which parts to import and hitting the import button at the bottom of the page, the content is there to edit and republish in PressBooks.

From here you can edit or add content (including by import from other sources), rearrange the content, and set options for publishing it. There is other work to be done. You will need to choose a decent theme to display your book with style. You will also need to make sure internal links work as your PressBooks permalink URL scheme might not match the URLs embedded in the content. How easy this is will vary depending on choices made when the book was created and your own knowledge of some of the WordPress tools that can be used to make bulk edits.

I am not really interested in distributing maths text books, so I won’t link to the end result of this specific example. I did once write a book in a book sprint with some colleagues, and that was published as an ePub. So here an imported & republished version of Into The Wild (PressBook edition).  I didn’t do much polishing of this: it uses a stock theme, and I haven’t fixed internal links, e.g. footnotes.


Of course there are limits to this approach. I do not expect that much (if any) of the really interesting interactive content would survive a trip through ePub. Also much of Steel’s work that I described up at the top is PressBook platform specific. So that’s where cloning from PressBooks to PressBooks becomes useful. But ePub remains a viable way of getting textbook content into the PressBooks platform.

Also, while WordPress in general, and hence PressBooks, is a great way of distributing content, I haven’t looked much at whether metadata from the ePub is imported. On first sight none of it is, so there is work to do here in order to make the imported books discoverable. That applies to the package level metadata in ePubs, which is a separate file from the content. However, what also really interests me is the possibility of embedding education-specific schema.org metadata into the HTML content in such a way that it becomes transportable (easy, I think) and editable on import (harder).

Wikidata driven timeline

I have been to a couple of wikidata workshops recently, both involving Ewan McAndrew; between which I read Christine de Pizan‘s Book of the City of Ladies(*). Christine de Pizan is described as one of the first women in Europe to earn her living as a writer, which made me wonder what other female writers were around at that time (e.g. Julian of Norwich and, err…). So, at the second of these workshops, I took advantage of Ewan’s expertise, and the additional bonus of Navino Evans cofounder of Histropedia  also being there, to create a timeline of medieval European female writers.  (By the way, it’s interesting to compare this to Asian female writers–I was interested in Christina de Pizan and wanted to see how she fitted in with others who might have influenced her or attitudes to her, and so didn’t think that Chinese and Japanese writers fitted into the same timeline.)

Histropedia timeline of medieval female authors (click on image to go to interactive version)

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Quick notes: Naomi Korn on copyright and educational resources

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.

hand drawn copyright symbol and word 'copyright' in cursive script.
from naomikorn.com

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).

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Reflections on a little bit of open education (TL;DR: it works).

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

Book chapter: Technology Strategies for Open Educational Resource Dissemination

A book with a chapter by Lorna M Campbell and I 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.

Preprint of full chapter (MS Word)

XKCD or OER for critical thinking

I teach half a course on Critical Thinking to 3rd year Information Systems students. A colleague takes the first half which covers statistics. I cover how science works including the scientific method, experimental design, how to read a research papers, how to spot dodgy media reports of science and pseudoscience, and reproducibility in science; how to argue, which is mostly how to spot logical fallacies; and a little on cognitive development. One the better things about teaching on this course is that a lot of it is covered by xkcd, and that xkcd is CC licensed. Open Education Resources can be fun.

how scientists think


hypothesis testing

Hell, my eighth grade science class managed to conclusively reject it just based on a classroom experiment. It's pretty sad to hear about million-dollar research teams who can't even manage that.


Blind trials


Interpreting statistics


p hacking


Confounding variables

There are also a lot of global versions of this map showing traffic to English-language websites which are indistinguishable from maps of the location of internet users who are native English speakers





Confirmation bias in information seeking



undistributed middle


post hoc ergo propter hoc

Or correlation =/= causation.

He holds the laptop like that on purpose, to make you cringe.



Bandwagon Fallacy…

…and fallacy fallacy


Diversity and inclusion


 Licence: All xkcd are by Randall Munroe and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. This means you’re free to copy and share these comics (but not to sell them). More details.

[Updated 15/11/2016 to add full source & licence info and some links, which I really ought to have known better than to forget.]

Sustainability and Open Education


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.

But what?

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.