OCWC Global 2009

Swine flu wasn’t the only thing happening last week in Mexcio. Along with about 150 others, I attended the OCWC (Open Course Ware Consortium) Global conference in Monterrey (OCWCglobal2009).

I travelled there as part of the OLNet project (many thanks to Patrick McAndrew and colleagues for providing the opportunity) and during the conference help to set up and use the OU’s Cloudworks system to help amplify and share conference sessions and discussions. This was my first time attending an OCWC event, and I have to say that overall I found it a really interesting, diverse and open conference with a truly global range of participants.

During the opening session, the Board shared their vision for the three main aims of the consortium, namely to:

*increase number of members and diversity of high quality courses
*enhance value of OCW courses to all types of users
*build and nurture a vibrant, culturally diverse OCW community that is connected to the OER movement

The consortium has been supported since its inception by the Hewlett Foundation and the Board were able to confirm continued funding from the foundation for the next three years which will allow the board time to fully develop its overall strategic plan and post foundation funding business model. Currently the consortium has 194 members who have contributed approximately 8557 published open courses (the numbers are increasing almost daily). During the week there was discussion about membership, subscription rates etc. It looks likely that a nominal membership fee will be introduced (c 500 dollars per institution) as well as the development of structures for affiliate membership. A UK affiliation is something that may well have some traction and is something that CETIS and the OU UK will be discussing further.

Over the course of the week a number of common areas appeared during most of the sessions I attended including: search and discovery of open course ware, use of RSS and what metadata and content to include in feeds, and of course copyright and licencing. Another underlying theme was granularity of content. The OCWC mainly deals with complete courses, however it was acknowledged that many people don’t really want to search or use a whole course rather just parts of it. So how can they easily find the piece of content that they really want? What is the best format to offer content in? The OpenLearn project is one which is leading the way technically here by offering content in multiple formats including print, RSS, moodle packages, IMC CP and CC. There was considerable interest in the content transcoder project CETIS and KI have been working on.

So a raft of common issues for the just starting JISC OER programme and hopefully as the programme develops we will be able to share our experiences with this wider community.

Another view of my conference “story” is available here.

EC SIG OER Meeting 27 February

Last Friday the EC SIG met at the OU, Milton Keynes for a really interesting day of presentations and discussion around OER. The meeting was in part timed to to coincide with the JISC OER call and to give an overview of some current developments in OER from a range of perspectives from the institutional to the individual.

Andy Lane and Patrick McAndrew started the day with an overview of institutional impact of the OpenLearn project. One of the key institutional barriers was (unsurprisingly) trying get over the assumption that providing open content wasn’t “giving away the family silver” and the fear of not being able to control what others might do with your content. OpenLearn has fundamentally been about de-bunking these perceptions and illustrating how making content open can actually bring about a range of benefits to the institution. The ethos of the OpenLearn project has been to enhance the student experience and the student, not the institution has central to all developments. In terms of institutional benefit, perhaps the most significant one is that there is now a clear trail showing that a significant number of openlearn students do actually go on to register for a fee paying course.

Sarah Darnley, from the University of Derby gave an overview of the POCKET project which is using OpenLearn materials and repurposing/repackaging then for their institutional VLE. They are also creating new materials and putting them into openlearn. Russell Stannard, University of Westminster rounded off the morning’s presentations with his fascinating presentation of his multimedia training videos. To quote Patrick McAndrew Russell is a bit of a ‘teacherpreneur’. During teaching of his multimedia course Russell saw that it would easier for him to create short training videos of various software packages which students could access at anytime thus freeing up actual class time. Russell explained how the fact that his site was high in google rankings has led a huge number of visits and again increased interest in the MSc he teaches on. Although not conceived as an OER project, this is a great example of how just “putting stuff out-there” can increase motivation/resources for existing students and bring in more. However I do wonder as Russell starts producing more teaching resources to go with his videos and his institution get more involved how open he will be able to keep things.

The afternoon session started with Liam Earney of the CASPER project sharing the experiences of the RePRODUCE programme. CASPER has recently surveyed to projects to find out their experiences dealing with copyright and IPR issues when repurposing material. A key finding is that the within the HE sector there is generally an absence of rights statements and only 14% of the projects found it easy to clear copyright. Ambiguity abounds within institutions about who/where/what and how of content can be reused. Of course this is a key area for the the upcoming JISC OER call.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in discussion around the call. Four of the programme managers involved were at the meeting and we able to answer questions relating to it. It is important to note the the JISC call is a pilot and is not a means to an end. It will not, and is not trying to solve all the issues around OER, however what it will do is allow the community to continue to explore and move forward with the various technical and IPR/copyright issues in the context of previous experience.

Copies of the presentations from the day are available from the CETIS wiki, and also a great summary of the day is available via Cloudworks ( a big thanks to Patrick McAndrew for pulling this together).

It's not what you share, but how you share

Scott Leslie has written a reallyinteresting post about some of the issues he has with institutional collaboration projects. I’m sure anyone who has tried to share any kind of “stuff” will find resonance in what he says.

The post is particularly timely for myself and others in CETIS as we are working closely with JISC colleagues who are planning the pilot OER call for next year. This is a major investment by JISC and the HEA with £5million worth of funding being made available.

We have been having extensive discussions around the types of architectures/sharing solutions that should be in place. Hopefully we can avoid the scenarios that Scott describes and allow as flexible an approach as possible, ensuring people can use existing tools and networks and that we don’t re-invent another un-necessary technical layer/network(s). However some decisions need to be made to ensure that any resources funded through the programme can be found and tracked.

We’ll be discussing these issues at the CETIS conference in a couple of weeks at the OER scoping session. If you would like to attend the session and haven’t had an invitation yet, please get in touch. Or just leave any thoughts about what you think here.

Update from JISC e-Learning programme meeting: open content call on the horizon

At the JISC e-Learning programme earlier this week, an outline of an exciting new call around open content was given by Tish Roberts (Programme Director, eLearning) and David Kernohan (Programme Manager, eLearning). A pilot phase will run next year (managed jointly by JISC and the HEA) and will investigate approaches for individual, disciplines and institutions towards making new (and existing) content open.

More information will be released in the coming weeks from JISC, so watch this space for more information. We are also running a session on open content at this year’s CETIS conference. So if you are interested, sign up for the session.

Going open, what does it really mean?

Openness was the theme of the EC SIG meeting hosted by the Jorum team earlier this week at the University of Manchester.

The CETIS community has been actively engaged with the open source movement for the past couple of years, and although we have been keeping a watching brief on developments such as the OpenLearn, we haven’t really been as engaged with the open content movement. However with the announcement that Jorum was planning to become an open service, it seemed timely to have revisit the notion of open content and look at the many and varied aspects of producing, sharing and re-using open content.

To set the scene in the morning, Cormac Lawler and John Casey gave presentations from the content creator and the content distributer points of view.

Cormac gave us an overview of the Wikiversity Project which he is actively engaged in and some of the issues that the project is grappling with in terms of creating an open learning space. One of the key challenges they are facing is trying to decide when a resource is complete – or if there are stages of creation that can be identified and tagged is some way. Some educational resources may never be complete and there is, I feel, an underlying assumption that once material is published in someway that it is complete – even it it is put in an editable space such as a wiki. Using an open wiki based philosophy in education challenges some of the editorial notions associated with wikipedia, particularly in terms of allowing branching or different points of views to be expressed. However as Cormac illustrated how open are we really about our educational content? Do we want for example to have extreme, un-pc material available – or at least allow people the right to publish it? Can/should our education system ever be that open?

John Casey then outlined the journey that Jorum is taking in trying to become a more open service. John outlined some of the political issues surrounding the whole notion of openness, relating it to use of common land and the erosion of that system through the development of a property owning society. He also pointed out how risk averse institutional management are regarding rights for learning materials, but they don’t seem to have the same problems with other (arguably higher risk associated) projects such as major building works and IT systems.

Liam Earney from JISC Collections gave us an overview of the RePRODUCE project. Liam and his colleague Caren Milloy are providing support in IPR and copyright for the projects. One key issue that seems to be coming up is that it is crucial for projects to think about the staff time issues relating IPR/copyright issues when they are writing their project bid. Liam pointed to what he described as the clash between academic and publishing cultures. Leaving two weeks at the end of the project to sort out the IPR stuff isn’t really going to work 🙂

The afternoon was given over to discussion. To help frame the discussion, Phil Barker from the MDR SIG, shared some reflections on what he thought we should be working towards in terms of creating valuable learning content for students. Phil put forward the case that communities of subject based disciplines were probably best placed to really figure out what content needed to be created/re-purposed etc.

The discussion was wide and varied, with lots of input from everyone in the room. It is difficult to summarize all the points made, however some of the key points that did come up were:
*process is more important than content
*sorting out institutional processes for IPR can be a positive driver for change
*funding bodies should make projects more accountable for creating open content and populating repositories such as Jorum, and ensuring that IPR and rights aren’t seen as last minute tasks
*the value of educational resources needs explored in more detail – can we really qualify what we mean by a valuable piece of learning content?
*some things are maybe best not open
*the notion of an open learning space is really in its infancy but could (already is) providing many exciting opportunities for teaching and learning.
*web 2.0 techniques can help us make our “stuff” more discoverable, and we should look to the tips and techniques of popular sites and try and learn from their practice
*education should be smarter about developing content and learn from publishers e.g. recognise the need for more professional processes, different types of staff (learning technologist, developers, and academics).

More information including slidecasts from the day are available from the wiki.

Poll shows postive attitudes towards an open Jorum service

After the recent announcement that Jorum will be moving towards an open model, I polled the EC list to see what, if any effect this change would have on people.

Almost 70% of respondents said that the change would make them more likely to use and, perhaps more importantly, contribute to the service. Let’s hope that when the service does become operational that these percentages are realised. The full results of the poll are available from the wikl.

The Jorum team will be presenting (and hosting) at the next EC SIG meeting on 27th May, and will be giving more details on the current proposals for JorumOpen. The meeting is fully booked at the moment, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, then please email me (s.macneill@strath.ac.uk) and I will add you to the list. As usual slides, podcasts and slidecasts will be available online after the event for those of you who can’t make the meeting.

Thoughts on OpenLearn 2007

Last week I attended the OU Openlearn conference in Milton Keynes. Presentations will be available from the conference website (agumented with audio recordings) as well as links to various blogs about the conference.

There were a couple of presentations I’d like to highlight. Firstly Tony Hirst’s on the use of RSS feeds and OPML bundles to distribute openlearn material really gave an insight into how easy it should be to create delivery mechanisms on demand from open content. I also really enjoyed Ray Corrigan’s talk “is there such a thing as sustainable infodiversity?” Ray highlighted a number of issues around sustainability of technology, energy consumption, disposable hardware. It’s all too easy to forget just how much of our natural resources are being consumed by all the technology which is so common place now. (As an aside, this was another conference where delegates were given a vast amount of paper as well as conference proceedings on a memory stick – something we are trying to avoid at the up coming JISC CETIS conference.) He also highlighted some of the recent applications of copyright laws that cut to the core of any ‘open’ movement. This view was nicely complimented by Eric Duval’s presentation where he encouraged the educational community to be more assertive and aggressive about copyright and use of materials for educational purposes – encouraging more of a ‘bring it on’ attitude. All well and good but only if academics have the security of institutional back up to do that. On that note it’s been interesting to see this weekend that the University of Oregon is refusing to give over names of students downloading music to the RIAA (see SlashDot for more information on that one).