(Open) Educational practice and (digital) literacy

I’ve been dipping in and out of the JISC online conference this week. As usual, there has been a great mix of live presentations and asynchronous discussion. Two themes have risen to the top of my mind, (open) educational practice and (digital) literacy. I also recently attended the Mainstreaming Open Educational Practices Forum co-hosted by the OPAL and Concede projects and UNESCO. So this post is a sort of summary of my reaction and reflections to issues raised during both these events. Apologies, this maybe a bit of rambling rant!

When working in any new or niche area, terminology and or jargon is always an issue. I’ve always disliked the term “e-learning”, and prefer to talk about “learning”. However I do realise that there are valid reasons for using the term, not least political ones. During both events, the disconnect between practitioners knowledge and understanding of both OER and Open Practice was “openly” recognised ad and discussed. Both terms have meaning in the research world, and in funded projects (such as UKOER, OPAL etc) but for the average teacher in FE/HE they’re pretty meaningless. So, how do we move into mainstream practice? Answers on a postcard, or tweet please 🙂 The work being done by the UK OER synthesis team on Open Practice is one way of trying to address some of these issues, and sharing experiences of developing practice and use of open, or indeed any, content in teaching and learning.

I was somewhat surprised at the UNESCO event that an assertion was made that open educational practice is mainstream, and I was equally reassured via my twitter network that it isn’t. Marion Manton made a really good point “I think it is like the OER use, aspects have always happened but not necessarily called OEP”. This distinction obvious and is crucial as it’s often forgotten. I think we in the educational research and development field too often alienate ourselves from reality by our insistence on using unfamiliar acronyms, jargon etc, and looking at small parts of the picture. Instead of focusing on “open” educational practice, why aren’t we looking at general “educational” practice? “Again, I know there are reasons for doing this, and there a lots of people (and projects) doing excellent staff development work to try and close the gaps. But I keep coming back to questions around why we continue to need to have these false constructs to allow us to get funding to investigate teaching and learning practice.

During the discussion session on digital literacies at the online conference, the notion of empowerment was raised. Increased digital literacy skills were recognised as a key tool to empower staff and students (and indeed everyone in our society). At the open education practice session this morning, the notion of OER literacy was raised. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this and I have to say I kind of feel the same about OER literacy as I do about e-learning. I see the literacies needed for using/creating/sharing OERs as being part of a wider set of digital literacies, which have much wider application and longevity.

Learning objects also came up during today’s discussion, in the context of “does anyone use the term anymore ?” Now, I’m not going to open up that particular can of worms here, but actually the fundamental issues of sharing and re-use haven’t changed since the those heady days. I think the work done by the open community not only has made great developments around licencing materials but has allowed us to look again at the core sharing/reuse issues and, more importantly engage (and re-engage) with these more challenging issues of educational practice.

On reflection, I think my attitudes and leanings towards the wider, general use of terms such as practice and literacy, are really down to my own development and practice. I am an unashamed generalist, and not an academic specialist. When I actually created educational content it was always openly (in one form or another) available. When I’ve been involved in staff development it has always been centred around sharing and (hopefully) improving practice and enabling teachers to use technology more effectively. And I hope that through my blogging and twittering I am continuing to develop my open practice. I do feel though that right now it would be timely to step back and take a look a the bigger picture of educational practice and literacies, not least so we can truly engage with the people we ultimately want to benefit from all this work.

6 thoughts on “(Open) Educational practice and (digital) literacy”

  1. Terminology/ jargon has come up as quite an issue at JISC conference http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/jargon-at-jisc-innovating-e-learning-2011-online-conference/ (see comments) and it’s not an easy one to address. I think efforts at clear communication are important but that real dialogue is very important for learning not just dissemination. I have been thinking about how to achieve this with my students – it’s not easy http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/digital-literacies-in-he-constructive-dialogue-between-teachers-and-students/

    Apologies for links to 2 of my own blog posts here;)

  2. Thanks Frances and of course I don’t mind link to your blog. Yes agree dialogue is key to contextualise literacy in broadest sense.


  3. Hi Sheila, arguably academic practice has always been informed by open values, e.g. repeatable experiments, open peer review, public access to learning (to those able to benefit) etc. I think the open web makes it possible to express those values on a completely new and dramatically wider scale. But of course it also makes possible the globalisation of the market in learning, and new kinds of knowledge commodification. So I think it is worth focusing on the democratising aspects of the web as it applies to learning, and ‘open’ seems a reasonable term to describe that focus.

  4. Hi Helen

    Thanks for this. I agree “open” is a reasonable term to describe that process, my point was that we need to make sure that we are truly democratic in our use of it so we don’t close people off before they appreciate what aspects of what they already do are “open” and then don’t get realise the full potential of open practice and OERs.

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