#OERxDomains21: Just what does it means to be open?

In the final keynote of the #OERxDomains21 conference, Rajiv Jhangiani asked what does it mean to be open?  After 2 days of sharing, caring, questioning, laughing, at times crying, it was timely reminder that “open” is a multifaceted concept and the practice(s) of open education manifests itself in many ways, and is deeply contextual.  Open educational practice, is as Catherine Cronin so beautifully put it back in 2017a constantly negotiated process.”

As with all conferences (and all other delegates) I had to negotiate and navigate my way through the conference programme and online spaces over the 2 days. I have to confess that at the conference committee meetings when Jim Groom was explaining the broadcast concept of the conference, I didn’t quite get it. But I had faith that it would all be OK.  I just didn’t realise how OK it would actually turn out to be. 

Online conferences are different from face to face, it is harder to connect, to get that “conference buzz”.  I thought ALT did an amazing job last year in extremely rapidly pulling  together the online version of OER20. However this year, the conference platforms were at another level. The combination of Streamyard, Youtube, and Dischord worked  really well. I’m sure I missed a lot of the functionality of Dischord, but I managed! And I did get a real sense of live, hallway chats.

So congratulations to the Reclaim team and ALT for realising an almost seemless online  experience.  I have never chaired a session with an online “producer” before. Having someone dealing with countdowns, pulling in questions from the youtube chat was amazing. I have to say I kind of never want to not have one again!  The way that the “backstage” area for all presentations worked was amazing, and I’m sure some will be share in more detail elsewhere.

Of course any conference is not just about the location. What makes any conference work is its community. It’s what we,  the people,  do in the spaces (online or physical) that makes the difference. People not technology make conferences work. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a core OER community and quite a bit of crossover between it and the Domains community.  The community aspect of the conference is one of the reasons I keep paying to go to OER conferences. It’s a vital part of my CPD – I don’t have any office buddies to talk to everyday. As we all know, open isn’t free and this is one dose of openness I am more than willing to pay to support. It’s a bit like an extended family reunion.  But we can’t let ourselves become a complacent, clique. We always need to ensure we are welcoming new people to the fold.

This year, there was a very necessary and needed focus on care. It’s been quite a year. People are tired, and need the support that a conference can provide such as sharing different approaches to open pedagogies of care, of social justice.  Brenna Clarke Gray talked about the “tricky truth about care” and the way (institutional) structures are actually indifferent. Where are the structural changes to institutional systems that are truly based on care?  Weekly wellness emails don’t really cut it and don’t deal with the moral stress that so many staff are dealing with.  Developing resilience is a sign of institutional, structural failure not personal failure. I really can’t recommend watching the recording of Brenna’s session enough.

Of course structural change is hard,  but if we can’t take the time to change things now after a global pandemic then when can we? I do have a sense that in HE  we are moving into a future that is being driven by narratives that aren’t based on the contextual realities of learning and teaching right now but more on neoliberal views ofwhat education should be and rosy tinted views of “getting back normal.”

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of phrases like Education 4.0 but I was intrigued by a session called University V is alive! Now open to the cruel and the dead, from Eamon Costello and Prajakta Girme. After finishing day 1 with the marvelous remixed and bingo infused keynote from Laura Gibbs, this was a stark contrast.  Whilst Laura shared a wonderful set of student created stories, Eamon and Prajakta  used a speculative fiction approach to present an unsettling, dystopian view of the open day for  University V,  34 years from now. Kudos to Eammon for his delivery, use of music and mix of visual artefacts and effects to create an unsettling start to day 2. We began to understand how every entrant to University V was indeed a number related to all family numbers and their behaviours that related to points, and value. There were intriguing clues as to who Professor A might be, how she(?) had changed her name to get “to the top”. As Eammon pointed out in the the Q&A the truth is really stranger than fiction, and we don’t have to go to far to discover what others might think only happens in fiction is actually happening in real life.

This came starkly to mind during Jasmine Robert’s powerful keynote. Jasmine’s honesty about her own trauma in the context of the reality of the the Derek Chauvin murder trial was a stark reminder of structures of oppression and who still controls the dominant media narratives. It’s not a huge jump at all to see Professor A as a person from a black, ethnic minority background who has manage to game and play the system to get to the top and protect her/him/they? (because we don’t really know Prof A’s gender) anonymity. The narrative of University V might be very different if it were written using non global north images and based on an alternative historical perspective.

Social justice was a critical theme across the conference, and both Jasmine and Rajiv highlighted it in their keynotes. Both stressed the need for us to let the under-represented voices be included, to support open pedagogies rooted in care and love. Part of that care is to recognise that not everything can or should be open. We need to create safe spaces for our students to have critical conversations, to help them develop their own voices, introduce them to a range of sources – not just “the white men”, and then give them the choice of where, how and when they want to put themselves in the open (as Laura’s keynote illustrated).

As ever it’s so hard to condense a conference experience into a blog post. From the opening plenary discussion keynote, where all the speakers rooted the conference in our current reality, OER x Domains 21 was, for me a very timely and necessary experience. Timely as it’s a year into the pandemic and teaching remotely, necessary as we all need to have space to get together, to share our stories, to learn from each other, to show our support and care for each other in a different space.

For me the overriding sense was of community, of care, of open humaneness (thank you Tutaleni Asino) of focusing on what really matters “we are teaching students not content” as Jasmine Roberts reminded us ; we are not humans “doing”, we are humans “being” said Glasgow College Student President Nicolas Garcia, in the opening plenary keynote . We might still be figuring out just how we can “be” in these still unsettling times, but open education, social justice and care are all great navigation points for this journey.

Many thanks to all the co-chairs, the organising committee, ALT and Reclaim staff , keynotes, presenters and participants alike for creating another great conference. Yes, collectively we all indeed did “do it again”. And it’s not over yet! There are workshops next week so do check them out. I’m delighted to be part of one around the potential future for BYOD4L. Wendy Taleo and Sarah Honeychurch invited everyone to contribute to an open zine in their Collective Hope short recording session. So here’s a little montage of some of my visual highlights.

Beyond the text book, using learning resources for open educational practice workshop

Last Friday, 6th February, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop at DCU hosted by Dr Eamon Costello, Head of Open Education, NIDL, Dublin City University.

The webinar was one of a series of open workshop events funded by the National Forum taking place across Ireland. Around 25 delegates from a number of universities and colleges gathered at DCU for a morning of sharing the realities, challenges and opportunities of thinking not only open educational resources such as text books, but wider opportunities of developing open educational practice for staff and students.

Often when I am involved in events like this, or when I am just talking about openness in general, people are interested in finding very specific places to go to find “the good stuff” or the “best tools” or the “most inspirational example of openness”. Now, that is quite a challenge to answer as there is a lot of “good stuff” (and equally not so good stuff) out there. One thing that I have to come to realise is that the most inspirational part open educational practice is the generosity of people who share their practice openly. Maha Bali is a great example of this. Her blog is a constant source of ideas, inspiration and she always brings a constructive critique to everything she writes about. Just reading things from a different point of view has had quite a profound effect on my own thinking and practice. Similarly, being involved in running events such as BYOD4L (one day we should bring that back), and trying (I’m not as regular participant as I would like to be) to take part in tweet chats such as #LTHEchat are just some of the ways I try to be open.

The format of the workshop was quite simple, with 2 main objectives – 1) to get people talking and sharing, 2) to use a bit of technology for interaction and sharing. So this is what we did.

Introductions it’s always good to get a bit of an understanding of who people are and why they have come

Digital Pursuits : After discovering this board game developed by Shri Footing based on the original Trivial Pursuits but adapted to use the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework, I have used it successfully at a number of workshops as an extended ice-breaker type activity. It really does get people talking, and thinking. There is also, for those that want it, an added competitive element. It’s also really interesting observing how different groups of people decide how to play the game.

Sharing realities, challenges, opportunities for OER/OEP: Using a padlet board delegates were asked to share one example of their open practice and one example of a current challenge. Storage, curation, maintenance of resources all still big challenges.

Developing open approaches to curriculum development: The final activity took a step back from resources to thinking more broadly about curriculum development. Using the digitally distributed curriculum model developed by Keith, Bill and myself – we discussed ways in which the values we propose in the diagram are/could be integrated into practice. Again we used padlet to share ideas.

Overall I felt that this worked well, allowing both a bit of focus and flexibility for delegates to talk and reflect on what their own context. It does seems to be harder and harder to find space and time to just think about what we do and how we do it. The funding model from the National Forum, where small pockets of money are given to institutions to run workshops like this, is I think, a really practical and effective way to make some space for thinking. I wish there was an equivalent here in the UK.

The OER Research Hub: Revving up OER research

Open and education, they go hand in hand, a bit like bread and butter or fish and chips. For over a decade, the open education movement has been steadily making inroads into the collective conscious.  Through various global initiatives there is increasing evidence to illustrate that there is more than “just a feeling” that OER and open educational practice can have an impact on teaching and learning. 

Building in particular on the work of the OpenLearn, Bridge to Success and OLnet   projects, and other developments in the wider open education movement, the OER Research Hub is focused on gathering evidence around the positive impact of OER, and open practice in teaching and learning.

Funded by the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation, the project provides: 

a focus for research, designed to give answers to the overall question ‘What is the impact of OER on learning and teaching practices?’ and identify the particular influence of openness. (http://oerresearchhub.org/about/)

As the project moves towards the end of its first year of funding, I’m working with the team to evaluate their overall approaches, methodologies, findings, outputs and dissemination. So, I have spent some time over the last couple of weeks immersing myself in the world of the OER Research Hub and familiarising myself with the complexities of fully understanding an evolving project with a number of different research activities and contributors. 

The overarching research question forms two key hypothesis as the central tenant for the projects’ research activities:

  • Use of OER leads to improvement in student performance and satisfaction.
  • The open aspect of OER creates different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources.

These “big” hypothesis have been further broken down into a subset of testable hypotheses:

  • Open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education.
  • Use of OER is an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students.
  • Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice.
  • OER adoption at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions.
  • Informal learners use a variety of indicators when selecting OER.
  • Informal learners adopt a variety of techniques to compensate for the lack of formal support, whichcan be supported in open courses.
  • Open education acts as a bridge to formal education, and is complementary, not competitive, with it.
  • Participation in OER pilots and programs leads to policy change at institutional level.
  • Informal means of assessment are motivators to learning with OER.

Using a collaborative research approach, the core research team is working with a number of established projects and is further complemented by a number of open research fellowships. Each project/ fellow is investigating a combination of the hypothesis.  In this way the project covers four major educational sectors (Higher Education, schools, informal learning and community colleges) as the diagram below illustrates.

(image from What makes openness work presentation, http://oerresearchhub.org/2013/07/17/what-makes-openness-work/)

Last month the team gave an overview  presentation of the project to colleagues at the Open University. The recording and slides provide an excellent overview of the projects’ activities to date.  Some more detailed reflections on the initial findings are included in this post by Leigh Anne Perryman.  

The team have also begun to identify the some of the key challenges they need to address in next year:

*Educators are more positive about the impact of OER on performance & satisfaction than students (across OpenLearn & Flipped Learning).
*Open Education Models don’t necessarily improve access to education.
*Students using OER textbooks may save up to 80% of costs.
*Informal Learner Experience survey suggests that CC licensing is less important than previously thought.
*There is survey evidence the OER (esp. OpenLearn) are being used to prepare and support formal study.
*Examples of OER policies emerging for practice are becoming more common (UMUC, Utah Textbooks, Foothil-De Anza CC).

As well as these headline challenges, there is also the underlying challenge of ensuring that the research and various outputs from the first phase of the project are being disseminated effectively.  How can the team ensure that their growing evidence, reflection, outputs is reaching not just the OER/open education community but the wider teaching and learning community? What other methodologies can be incorporated into their data collection and sharing? What are the key lessons from the “agile research”  approach the project is taking? How are they refining/adapting/reacting to this approach?  What lessons can they share from it?  And most importantly, how can the hypothesis and their findings be made immediate and valuable to all of the projects’ stakeholders? Which is where I come in 🙂

Over the coming weeks I’ll be working with the team to as they prepare for their next phase and I’ll be sharing some of the approaches to answering the questions above both here and via the OER Research Hub