Nov 7, 2007

OpenLearn 2007 - Learning the open source way (day 1)

Ellen Sjoer and I went to the OpenLearn conference last week in Milton Keynes, England. The conference about open content in education had four main themes;

  • Research agenda
    • Models of informal learning in the world of open education.
    • Cross-cultural issues of open education.
    • Research methods for online research of informal learning.
  • Sustainability
    • Sustainability models for open educational resources.
    • Production approaches and costs for open educational resources.
    • Methods for embedding open content in education.
  • User experience
    • User experience with open content.
    • Case studies illustrating user models.
    • Accessibility of open education.
  • Software and tools
    • Tools and software supporting open education.
    • Social software for open education.
    • Mobile technologies in open education.
This post will treat the experiences of the first day: a FLOSScom meeting about the principles of open source, and how these can be applied in a formal educational context.

With some delay Ellen and I arrived at the session that concerned the question whether open source (OS) principles can be applied in educational settings, specifically for the creation of open content. An interesting topic introduced by researcher Andreas Meiszner of FLOSSCom. FLOSS means Free-Libre Open Source Software. His research focuses on
  1. Identification of factors that contribute to successful knowledge construction in informal learning communities, such as the FLOSS communities.
  2. Analysis of the effectiveness of FLOSS-like learning communities in a formal educational setting.
  3. Provision of case studies, scenarios and guidelines for teachers and decision-makers on how to successfully embed such learning communities within formal educational environments to enhance student progression, retention and achievement.
  4. Evaluation of the project and dissemination of the results of the project to the wider community.
Andreas prepared two presentations to support this workshop. The first one is a basic overview on learning related aspects within open source software communities and the second one tries to model FLOSS-like learning scenarios for educational settings. In explaining the characteristics of learning in OS communities and formal education, he mentions the following;

OS communities
Formal education
  • Content is dynamic
  • Learning resources are manyfold
  • Users are also active creators
  • Support and learning resources are closely connected
  • Open and transparent structures foster reuse and discourse, but also improvement and evolutionary growth
  • Existence of a wide range of possible activities to engage at around the core product
  • Self-learning and learning from what others did are the predominant of learning
  • Materials are the product of a few authors, little contribution from other people
  • Basic software usage and experience
  • Infrequent releases, feedback seldom considered, no continuous development cycle
  • Distribution depends on publishers
  • Prior learning outcomes and processes are not systematically available (in OS communities these are mailing lists, forums)
  • No community involved
Andreas made a very interesting overview of applying FLOSS principles in a formal educational environment and explains how such an environment will overcome some of the mentioned problems:

FLOSS learning in formal education
Learning from OER today
  • Students, teachers and free learners use the same web spaces and are connected in an organized way
  • Teachers’ output is made available in open repositories (e.g. OER)
  • Students’ outputs and activities become part of the course or make a new learning resource
  • Students’ learning processes are recorded and can be found online
  • Students’ support is divided into formal support (usually not recorded) and informal support at the web (recorded) within known established and mature support environments
  • There is re-use, peer-review, collaborative content production, communities & evolutionary growth
  • Repositories of OER are created, not learning communities
  • Content is defined and produces in the traditional way
  • Content is static, not manifold and rarely updated
  • Formal students do not directly engage with neither OER or external students or free learners
  • Learning outcomes and processes do not become part of something (course, learning resource, product, etc)
  • Support and learning resources are not connected
  • There is no concern for motivations and activities to attract free learners to become active contributors

The discussion touched upon different relevant issues:
  • Quality assurance and evaluation
    (for both content and learner). Some emphasized the high importance of experts, and doubted that an anarchistic OS environment for learning would enhance learning and learning resources. Others explained that
    • a faster feedback loop on resources and questions/problems improves quality;
    • quality depends on the context of learning, hence cannot be determined for others;
    • advanced rating and tagging mechanisms can be implemented to overcome some of these perceived issues;
    • there is a social element of learning embedded in OS communities;
    • experts (old foxes) and leaders play an important role in OS communities as well, next to roles and task assignment. (Connexions research).
  • The need to meet a given curriculum, setting ground rules
    • Making a metalayer or learning contexts on how to make resources and combine them, focusing less on content.
  • Cultural resistance to change, and community development aspects
    • Culture of learning versus accreditation. Next generation university: exam-only + external bodies for learning?
    • Interface management is crucial in creating learning objects in an open source way :: "Modularity reduces the costs of coordination, but is only possible when the interfaces between the modules are clearly defined." (Understanding Open Source Communities, van Wendel de Joode 2005, p.85)
  • Difference between open source and (formal) education
    • Richard Heller said that there is a foundational difference between OS and OER.
      Within OS is the software the end, but for education the learning process is considered more important. OER cannot be considered the end, rather the education process that surrounds it. I am not sure whether I agree with it, and not because I think that learning objects or resources are more important than the process. Rather, I think that software creation in OS communities is not an end either. People and machines in this respect can be treated in the same way: software feeds the machine to work better, educational resources feed the human machine to function better in society.
  • Getting passionate users in an OER community, like within OS communities
    • Andreas explained the so-called "Onion Model", with 2% of the community core programmers making more than half of the code (OER: educators), and the rest of the code (45%) being made by passionate users. A third group is formed by the passive users. Andreas argues that within OER initiatives we miss this group of passionate users. We have 2% educators responsible for the content, but no tools, manuals, incentives for the users of the content to become active and passionate
      contributors as well.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Thieme

    Hope you went home well and your Thesis will progress smothly.

    Thanks for this very good and detailed summary!

    Just a comment on the last point, the passionate users. Though having no sound academic evidence at hand I extended the 2% rule for general involvement, not only applied to coding. I did a brief review on 8 online community forums (4 floss / 4 others) and the rule also seemed to apply there.

    But yes, unlike in open source we don't see the same motivations in the OER move.

    So all the best and good luck again!