Sep 24, 2007

OpenED: A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement

Open Educational Resources, past & future (3/3)
Three interesting papers about open educational resources are discussed this week in the course "Introduction to Open Education", given by David Wiley. These papers, although partly overlapping, show some interesting facts about OER, motivation, production, copyright, and all other related issues, as well as some compelling ideas and arguments about the future learning landscape in which OER have to prove themselves sustainable and useful. Since my thesis focuses on this future, trying to figure out how a sustainable OER environment will look like for Delft University of Technology, and possibly other technical universities, especially the reports that show a glimpse on the future addressed my interests most. Both the OLCOS report as the Atkins, Brown, and Hammond report had a strong focus on the future, where the OECD report mainly introduced OER, described different OER models, showed interesting projects, and included more facts about OER-related aspects. This post will discuss a report commissioned by the OECD, named "Giving Knowledge for Free, the Emergence of Open Educational Resources".


  • Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD, 2007)
  • Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS, 2007)
  • A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond, 2007)
What do these overviews of the field have in common? What do they emphasize differently? What are the aims of the authors of each report? Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports? Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did? Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you?

A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities
A Review of OER: Achievements, Challenges, and New OpportunitiesThe third paper discussed this week is another interesting one. The following three rather well-known authors have described in detail what the next step is for funding open educational resources initiatives:
  • Daniel E. Atkins, Professor of Information, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan and Director of the Office ofCyberinfrastructure, U.S. National Science Foundation;
  • John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox and Director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC);
  • Allen Hammond, Vice President, Special Projects and Innovation at World Resources Institute.
The goal of the paper, which is written for the Hewlett foundation, is to:
  • Review investments by Hewlett Foundation
  • Describe results of investments
  • Provide an overview of complementary projects
  • Give suggestions for future investments.
After an introduction to open educational resources, the authors provide an extensive, but not complete overview of investments in open educational resources. They describe major remaining challenges, such as sustainability, access, object granularity, quality assessment,IP (Intellectual Property) issues, and more. The second part introduces major socio-technological changes that have an enormous influence for the OER-landscape, both creating great opportunities as large remaining tasks to be done. Important changes concern open source software and content, web 2.0 technologies, better access to and performance of ICT , and an improved understanding of learning. These changes will enable the emergence of a global "Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure", the subject of the final part of the paper. This OPLI , as the authors have called it, is both social as technological, and is the product of the fostering of the right social interactions and development of the right tools. The OPLI initiative will, along with other concurrent transformative initiatives, address large international challenges, namely
  • to significantly transform effectiveness of and participation in scientific discovery and learning;
  • to enable engaged world universities, meta universities, and a huge global increase in access to high-quality education; and
  • to create cultures of learning for supporting people to thrive in a rapidly evolving knowledge-based world.
An elaboration follows about how this OPLI looks/should look like, what dynamics surround it, technologies relate to it, and what attributes it has. Besides this interesting focus, the report provides an interesting perspective on learning and the digital divide, explaining the large role reserved for mobile and wireless technologies in that context, especially in underdeveloped countries.

In the text below I will shortly discuss the different aspects that appealed or interested me in the report.

The report starts with an overview of most projects funded by the Hewlett foundation, explaining the configuration and objectives of the different projects. The OER movement has spread out in different, sometimes redundant, but mostly complementary directions. Different models for the production of educational resources have been adopted, legal issues are addressed through the use, development and promotion open licenses, language barriers by supporting translation programs, and technological issues by developing and financial backing of open source software projects. An interesting remark is given at the end of the introduction, where the authors warn for a "success disaster", explaining that "more institutions and even more examples of any one course aren’t necessarily better" and that there is a need for "incentives and mechanisms to promote creation and access to fewer instances of the same course but with more support material, more commentary, more examples, etc."

Even though I do see a resemblance in the approach described in the OLCOS 2012 Roadmap paper, where OER value chains are described, there is a difference. OER value chains are not so much about creating less instances of better quality, but on fostering learning of and with OER, regardless of the number created. It is possible that there are numerous resources, most of them useless, but the environment in which these are offered may be more important that the actual resource itself.

More interesting than the examples given in the first part are the remaining challenges. The authors argue that the approach taken by MIT, which relies for a great part on a centralized organization to maintain quality, provide support, and take care of copyright issues, might not work for other institutions. I agree. MIT is an extraordinary university that enjoys not only numerous valuable connections, but a owns a lot of money to be able to support this way of producing materials. Putting a single course online costs $25.000, where the costs of producing one extra course on Connexions, relying on decentralized support and intuitive tools, costs zero. My interest in sustainability issues is high, so I will repeat here the suggestions of the authors. The following approaches need to be explored:
  1. Encourage institutions, instead of pioneering faculty to embrace OER;
  2. Open educational resources should not be seen as distinct from the courseware environment for formally enrolled students... This is a very interesting issue, because my experience after interviewing a number of participating teachers and producers of OER at my university, is that they DO SEE THE OER ENVIRONMENT AS A SEPARATE ENVIRONMENT, more as a showcase for their department or faculty. The statement made by the same authors on the USU project reflects the same, that USU IP philosophy "suggests that two different digital course resource systems would emerge within a university: one built entirely of creative commons material, and another built within theIP environment of the institution’s digital library/repository allowing access to copyright material only to authenticated members of community.";
  3. Distributing costs through membership based services;
  4. Student participation in creating OER or providing support;
  5. Along the same line.. addressing the voluntary efforts of individuals in a network (or "micro-contributions from many");
  6. The use of social software in producing and supporting OER.
They further emphasize that unless an OER initiative has a critical mass of active and engaged users, it cannot become sustainable. Another point that interested me concerns the type of media format for resources. The well-known and broadly used .PDF format, chosen by MIT, should be re-examined. More flexibility is given by using the XML format, which both Rice University's Connexions as Open University's LabSpace (of the OU OpenLearn initiative) have adopted. Unsurprisingly, because both initiatives try to enable the user to remix their resources online, so better resources are being created over time. The authors address this issue a bit later, mentioning that
"the grand challenge here is how we might close the loop on the use of open educational material so that we can create virtuous learning loops that constantly improve the material through use (and through the numerous learnings from remixes, etc.)."
I think they mean the same as David Wiley, who argues that "to create the highest chance of reuse in other contexts, make your OERs as context-specific as possible." This seems odd to me, because granularity might be just as important: If you make a 1000 page book about a very specific subject, it can be very informative, but 500 2-page information units might be better useful for others... right?

The authors, in their promotion of the learning loop, provide a part of the solution, and argue in favor for a "post-publication review based on a more open community of third-party reviewers experienced in using the materials" rather than the traditional and exclusive pre-publication review, where material is accepted or rejected.
Connexions, again, is used as an exemplary initiative adopting this more decentralized model. Two criteria are to be met to guarantee success with this model; the first enabling users to evaluate and credential modules, the second to search and find modules of high quality. Especially the second is addressed very well by Connexions, by their concept of lenses:
"Traditional publication employs a pre-publication peer review process, but the fast pace of Connexions content development requires systems of quality assurance that do not rely on such long and exclusive processes. Connexions opens up the editorial process to third-party reviewers for post-publication review. While Connexions users will have access to all content in the Commons (of any quality), users will also have the ability to preferentially locate and view Modules via Lenses, each of which have a different focus provided by a third party. Examples of Lens sources might include:
  • Professional societies, universities, school boards, publishers, consumer unions
  • Colleagues and peers
  • Most popular, most linked, highest user ratings
  • Learning assessment rating"
A more elaborate (and illustrated) description can be found on their site.

The future for OER
The authors argue that the focus for the Hewlett foundation, and the actors in the OER landscape in general, should shift from a culture of sharing towards a culture of learning, or a learning ecosystem. By shortly touching upon the skills needed in a knowledge economy, marginal change in educational practices is deemed not sufficient, but the focus should be on how technology (emphasizing wireless and mobile technology) can create powerful changes in the educational system and school. Their main focus point in the rest of the report concerns their proposition to promote and support an Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI). They describe enablers for this, concurrent transformative initiatives, and international grand challenges. There are quite some similarities in the observations described in the "OLCOS Roadmap 2012" paper, although that one is a bit more extensive on the trends and challenges and less focused on an OPLI in specific. Enablers of the OPLI are socio-technological changes, such as open source software, web 2.0 technologies, rich media, gaming and social networking, but the changing learning landscape, and the deeper understanding of learning in general is mentioned as well. Still, the focus is on internalizing knowledge, instead of connecting to knowledge, as proclaimed by George Siemens in his "Learning theory of the future". At the same time, it stresses the importance of new Web 2.0 technologies that enable building a network of people and information resources, which is a prerequisite for learning through connecting.

Some interesting notes on the OPLI
So Atkins, Brown, and Hammond propose the Hewlett foundation to shift the focus from sharing towards learning, by fostering an Open Participatory Learning Initiative (OPLI). An OPLI is not something that is organized, designed and made top-down, and is something that concerns organization and culture, as well as technology. The authors call it
"a decentralized environment that (1) permits distributed participatory learning; (2) provides incentives for participation (provisioning of open resources, creating specific learning environments, evaluation) at all levels; and (3) encourages cross-boundary and cross cultural learning."
An OPLI is a set of organizational practices, technical infrastructure, and social norms. They stress that such an environment cannot be built or designed, but that is should emerge and develop, with social, organizational, and cultural issues in tandem with technology. In such an environment the teacher is an enterpreneur (I like that), and shares material, exercises, projects, etc. Unfortunately, the authors forget to mention that the student is as much an enterpreneur in in such an environment as the teacher, by connecting and sharing ideas, and creating an identity in this highly dynamic world. The Internet, with all its Web 2.0 technologies, will become a living dynamic practicum.

The report has an emphasis on how materials can be re-used and remixed/repurposed where appropriate. It also recognizes enormous potential in social software and social sites for critiquing and sharing experiences to make open educational resources better. The report ends with a summation of criteria for this environment, which needs to be fostered by the Hewlett foundation, and numerous other organizations. At the same time, these are criteria for the allocation of funds. The idea is that money, information and organizational efforts should go to projects that reinforce these trends of openness and contribute to this worldwide Open Participatory Learning Initiative. And with "participatory" in mind, I give a imaginary but noticable online wink to my university...

No comments:

Post a Comment