Three kinds of open

Last week, David Kernohan and myself attended three conferences in North America, all with a common underlying theme of open. But, as many of us know, there are many types/flavours/definitions of open in education today. This post tries to make sense of some of the common themes across the week.

The Ithaka Sustainable Scholarly Research Conference and OpenEd 2012 were in some ways at opposite sides of the open spectrum. The former being research and (research) publisher orientated, with Open Access featuring prominently, and OpenEd being very much focused on the use and development of open content and open educational practice. We also attended a half day Open Forum hosted by BCcampus which was designed to initiate discussions and action around developing a province wide approach to open education in general which again had a different flavour (visually noted by Guilia Forsythe )

Why is Open Education Important, Roundtable discussions

As I’ve been trying to focus and write up coherent account of the week, a couple of posts have come to mind. Firstly, Amber Thomas’s diagram of openness;

A Diagram of Opens, Amber Thomas, 2012
A Diagram of Opens, Amber Thomas, 2012

which is really useful it setting out the areas covered last week, with an emphasis on the open content and open practices areas.

There were lots of cross over points, which is how it should be. As Amber points out in her original post “There is not ever going to be a total transformation to open. The reality is a mixed economy.” And I was really heartened to see how a number of presentations at OpenEd are embracing this point of view. I’ve always had a niggling concern that the OER movement might be guilty of a form of self ghettoisation, by just talking to itself about what it is doing and not embracing the wider community. In particular the presentation by Emily Puckett Rodgers and Dave Malicke from Open Michigan outlined the more inclusive approach they have developed in engaging practitioners with open practice, sharing and OERs was a great example of wider community engagement.

Their approach is now far more about understanding motivations for sharing and then working with staff and students to build confidence, understanding and sharing of content in appropriately open ways rather than trying to ensure content is in the “right” format.

Open Access was also a linking theme. The Ithaka conference was situated squarely within the research and publishing sphere. I am very much on the periphery of this area (please read the rest of this section with that in mind), but it was quite fascinating to sit in on some of the discussions, particularly those around new models of publishing and peer review. As this is Open Access Week, I found it timely to read far more informed comment on the OA debate from both Peter Murray Rest and Martin Weller yesterday.

I rather naively anticipated general support and consensus about OA. During the conference I got an insight into another side of the debate. A round table session featuring a university press, and two subject associations highlighted their pressures around OA. Whilst recognising the need to evolve and change, it was pointed out many smaller associations and publishers exist for their publication, not to make profit. Many of them don’t receive any other funding so rely on their sales just to survive. But there was general recognition that a journal alone was no longer a sustainable model. There needs to be more exploration of new models including moving from print to wholly online publishing, looking at extending value through increased and improved access to scholarly databases and/or bibliographies, exploring the potential of producing more case studies with teaching notes and industry reports and surveys. Journals need to change from just being text based to including other types of content (video, data etc).

The need for hybrid OA approaches with more community/crowdsourced approaches to peer review was also a common theme. This was followed up in in a session called “Next Generation Peer Review”, where a number of OA platforms such as PLOS One, F1000 Research, Rubriq and a new addition to the market PeerJ were highlighted. PeerJ is launching next month, and is being designed to take have a very community driven approach. Initial membership is $99 per year, and they are hoping to reduce that to zero by selling other data. Exactly what/how that would work is as yet unclear. But that certainly seemed to chime with what the smaller publishers were saying the day before. This approach also seemed to be drawing on ideals of scholarly societies where membership and reviews are trusted and more importantly open processes.

Obviously there needs to be more experimentation around open review processes which was discussed but there are certainly opportunities to expand OA approaches and perhaps open peer review could be a disruptive force in this area. I’ve pulled my twitter notes from these sessions together in a storify as they capture the essence of the discussions.

The need for more open access, particularly for publicly funded research was the starting point for John Willinsky’s keynote at OpenEd, where he made a rallying cry for the extended right to and power of open access, open data and open education. Again more merging and mixing of the elements of Amber’s diagram.

One other thing that really stuck out for me (and a couple of other delegates) at OpenEd was the omnipresence of the e-book. Whilst I fully appreciate that bringing down the cost of text books, and of course making as many texts as possible available under open licences such as CC, is a great thing (not least for the amount of money it can save students and institutions); it did seem that e-books were the only concern of some presentations. I did feel slightly uneasy about the tyranny of text book particularly as theme of the conference was “beyond content”. But, given the cost of some text books and the fact that you don’t seem to be able to pass any college courses in North America without access to set texts I can see why many sessions were centered around this. Maybe it’s just a British thing, and I should feel fortunate that, as yet, we don’t have similar pressures. I think (hope!) the presentation David and I did on the history of OER from a UK perspective highlighted a non-content centric view of development.

The BC Openforum also had a strong element of the absurdity of some book costs – particularly in the K-12 sector. Both David Wiley and Cable Green (Creative Commons) highlighted how taking open approaches to the creation and extension of text books can save money and so allow for more time and money to be spent on staff development and in turn more creative approaches to teaching and learning. Moving to more open practices, Brian Lamb also shared a number open approaches, including DS106 – couldn’t do a post on OpenEd without mentioning it somewhere 🙂 It was good to hear an embracing of the “proudly borrowed from here” spirit advocated by Cable in the delegate discussion sessions. In the spirit of openness, collated notes from the discussion sessions are available online.

So all in all a mixed mode week of open-ness, but it was great to see more and more interconnectedness of the jigsaw of open education.

OER Road trip

I’ve just returned from a fascinating fact-finding mission to the US on OER and online/distance learning. Spending time with colleagues from MIT, CMU, NSF and University of Maryland University College gave us an invaluable opportunity to gain insights into their experiences, attitudes and business/educational models for distance/online learning and their experiences of being involved with the OER movement. I travelled with David Kernonhan (programme manager for the current JISC OER programme) and we joined Malcolm Read ( Chief Executive of JISC) later in the week. I’m not sure if it was just a happy co-incidence, but during the week the Obama administration also announced a $50 million programme to create open resources for community colleges.

One of our first meetings was with Candace Thille of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Candace has been instrumental in setting up and managing their Open Learning Initiative (OLI). This programme has been running since 2002 and as with many other open initiatives received funding from the Hewlett Foundation. The main premise for the programme is to create new learning environments for individual/self study purposes. The overarching goal is to facilitate a “change of knowledge state” of the individual so measurable, student centred outcomes have been a key part of the design and development of the materials.

When developing the materials a rigorous design process is adhered too. Broadly speaking this encompasses a literature review the subject area, identification of available materials, and then research in the given subject area of both the expert and student views. This allows the design team (who include teachers/subject experts) to build a “big picture” view and identify the gaps between the expert view and the actual student experience. The results are then used as the basis to create materials which concentrate on the key areas of misunderstanding and provide self-paced study activities. Although originally seen as an open self study resource, the courses are increasingly being used by on-campus students and tutors alike . As students work through material feedback is automatically generated and so tutors are able to structure their f2f teaching time to better accommodate the actual learning needs of the whole class. The data is also used to refine/develop the courses as part of an iterative design process.

The “learning environments” are openly available on the web, but are not strictly speaking OERs, as you can’t download them and re-use/re-mix. The key to this programme is gathering feedback and using that to refine the materials. However they are exploring some models to allow some customisation of the materials which include a small fee to become part of their “academic community” and providing fee based assessments. Candace is also a partner with the OU here in the UK of the OLNet project which is looking at the issues surrounding community take up and use of OERs. Extending the design of the environments to include collaborative learning opportunities is also part of their development plans.

Our next meeting was with Steve Carson (External Relations Officer of the MIT OWC project and Mary Lou Forward new CEO of the OCWC. MIT is probably the most famous single OER project. However it was interesting to discover a bit more of the history of the project. MIT had been investigating the possibilities of distance learning. However after extensive investigations came to the conclusion that their wasn’t a viable business model for the MIT experience as an online experience. However the institution had publicly committed to having some kind of online experience and so the concept of allowing their materials to be openly available gained ground as a way of meeting that commitment and also resonated with the more public spirited philanthropic ethos of the institution.

Like all OER projects (and I know this is a key concern for the current JISC funded project) copyright and IPR was something that needed to be addressed at the outset. It was decided that the best model for MIT to adopt was that faculty owned their content, but they would licence it to the OCW project who could then make it open. Initially faculty members were paid a small fee to engage with the project and licence their materials to the project, but as it has grown this payment is no longer necessary.

Currency of materials is an ongoing issue, and at the moment the review period for a course is seven years – however depending on subject area this is flexible. The general ethos now is that the materials give a “snap shot” view of the course. The development team try to make the process of putting teaching materials online as easy as possible for faculty and the average minimum time spent by a faculty member is around 5 hours. Of course this is mainly to produce print based materials.

There have been a number of unexpected benefits to the institution including reported improvements in teaching and learning from on-campus staff and students; increased lifelong connections between students and the institution ( the class of 2008 donated around $50,00 to the project ) and the one I found most interesting – particularly given the standing of MIT as a research institituion – is the fact that faculty members involved in OCW have reported reputational benefits from releasing their teaching materials. The team are currently involved in evaluating the programme and hope to produce an extensive evaluation report later this year.

In terms of sustainability the programme is looking at various models. In costs c.$3.3 million a year to run and will soon have to become self sustaining. Substantial cost reductions have been made through savings in technology use such as outsourcing hosting services e.g. video on youtube which can them be embedded back into the site. The model the team described as being most close to their ideal would be one similar to the public broadcasting service in the US. That is a model which would allow for major gifts, some corporate sponsorship and some advertising/underwriting etc.

The OCW infrastructure is now been seen as having considerable leverage within the institution. Nearly every grant proposal has an OCW element built into it so that material can be released. Various outreach projects such as “Highlights for High School” are based on the basic material but customised for a specific target audience. The Board is also looking at ways of generating income from additional elements to the materials such as assessment and more interactive services. However no decisions have been made and their is a commitment to making sure that any such services would be consistent with the open ethos.

In contrast to these open initiative, our final visit was to University of Maryland University College where we met Nic Allen (Provost Emeritus) and Mark Parker (Assistant Provost, Academic Affairs). The student profile of UMUC is radically different to both MIT and CMU with many of it students being part-time and also from under-represented communities. Although a part of the public university system of Maryland, UMUC receives only just over 6% of its budget from public funding. So, it is very business orientated and relies on fees to generate revenue. A “lean and mean” philosophy which has at its core leveraging technology use has proved successful. Although currently the institution is not involved in developing OERs, it does see the open movement – including open accesss journals, as having a role to play in future developments. UMUC has an extensive portfolio of online courses from high school to doctoral level and has c.100,000 students worldwide. Since its inception UMUC has also been the provider of overseas education to the US forces and families. This traditionally has involved f2f teaching however this model – particularly with regards to provision to service personnel- is changing more and more to online delivery.

UMUC has developed a “students come first” culture in respect to all aspects development and running of courses. 24/7 being support is available for all aspects of online provision – from technical, library and tutor. Since 1992, the institution has developed and used its own LMS – Tycho (the current version being webTycho). In part this decision was made as at the time there was no off the shelf product that met their requirements and also they are in control of its development. Although not an open-source product, its currently development cycle can utilise web 2 technologies and use web-services to integrate with the usual suspects of facebook, youtube etc. There was also interest in the widget development work that Scott Wilson has been spearheading. All staff undergo a 5 week training course which a focus on pedagogy before teaching “live”. There is also a network of faculty communities of practice to support staff in developing their online teaching habits.

Mike explained that a key factor to their success has been that their model of online provision has been an integral part of the institutions’ course provision and has had to be self sustaining from the outset. It has never been seen a separate division, and so faculty buy-in has been there from day one. In terms of service provision some of the lower level technical support has now been contracted out to private companies but key services will always be provided by in-house staff.

So a wide range of projects and models however there were a number of key similarities that struck me including:

Seed funding: For OER in particular, seed funding from large foundations such as Hewlett has, and continues to be key for starting initiatives. JISC is now playing a similar role in the UK and hopefully current economic circumstances aside, will be able to continue to support an ethos of openness.

Production processes: Although CMU, MIT and UMUC have very different business models they do all have a basic production process. In the main this is quite similar to a print based editorial/publishing system. However, even more importantly they all have a dedicated team of staff to “put stuff online” – it’s not just left to academics. It will be interesting to see if similar teams are developed/utilised in the JISC OER pilot projects or if viable alternatives emerge.

Evaluation:Evaluation of OER is very complex and even MIT find it hard to track who/where and how their resources are being used. Unless you take a very diagnostic approach from the outset as OLI have, it is difficult to get accurate information on how your resources are being used. This is where perhaps community based projects such as OLNet can help the community come to some consensus about best practice around use of OER and help develop common evaluation strategies. In some ways the JISC one year pilot programme is almost too short to evaluate within its lifecyle, however the fact that projects have been asked to look at tracking their resources should in itself provide some useful data.

Enhancement: it may seem a bit of a “no brainer” to some of us who have been involved in online learning for a while, but the simple act of getting materials ready to put online does provide a valuable opportunity for reflection and refinement for teaching staff and so help to improve and refine the teaching and learning process. Both MIT and CMU did not realise just how much use their on-campus students would make of their open materials and the subsequent impact they would have on on-campus based teaching. As I mentioned earlier, MIT OCW now has anecdotal evidence that faculty can have unexpected increased reputational standing by being involved in the OER movement.

Sustainability: Although seed funding is key to getting things started, it can’t be relied on forever. Hewlett have already announced that they will stop funding OER projects in the near future and so sustainability needs to be considered from the outset. Perhaps a case of “an OER isn’t just for a JISC project but for life . . .” mentality is needed to be developed. Of course, JISC too should be extending the open ethos by ensuring that all outputs of its funded projects are openly available through creative commons licencing. Certainly from the experience of a successful online learning institution such as UMUC, making any online provision part of a central process and/or central to core business models and not a peripheral unit/practice would seem to be essential. Again it will be interesting to see what sustainability models/issues emerge from all three strands of the JISC pilot programme.