OLnet Academics' Blogs

Double book launch online

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 15/12/2014 - 10:22

Tomorrow (Dec 16th) at 3pm UK time I’m doing an online book launch for my Battle For Open book. I’m sharing it with Martin Eve, who will be talking about his Open Access and the Humanities book also. If you’re interested in openness, open access, books, or just want to procrastinate, then please join us, The room will be open from 2pm (we’ll record it too so if you’re reading this after the fact, you can watch the playback).

One thing about going with a small publisher like Ubiquity is that they don’t have the marketing budget of someone like Elsevier. However, having published three books previously I’m not convinced this marketing does much. They generally ask you for ideas about where to send it, and much of the marketing is done by your personal networks. But I confess I don’t know how important all those catalogues, stands at conferences, and glossy flyers distributed via post are in terms of overall sales. I suspect they may help with giving the book a longer life. So, this represents a bit of a test. Ubiquity have some marketing and will get it into library catalogues, so it’s not a pure comparison of self-marketing vs traditional, but it will be interesting to see if it makes much difference in terms of citations (or sales even).

So, doing things like the webinar are part of that. I hope it’s interesting to others and not just self-indulgent. I will talk a bit about the book’s central theme but also about the process of writing this book also. And the relationship with Martin’s book will hopefully throw up some useful points for discussion too. Failing that, we can just sing Christmas carols and have mince pies.

Why a book?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 05/12/2014 - 16:57

Did I mention my Battle for Open book is out? I SAID DID I MENTION MY BOOK IS OUT.

Ahem. Audrey Watters asks why a book, and it’s a question I asked myself with my last book. Here are some thoughts on the process of writing it, and how it relates to blogs and other outputs.

As with the last one, my blog is invaluable. It’s not quite like David’s book which is a collection of his blog posts, but anyone who reads this blog and then the book will be familiar with a lot of its content. When I realised there might be a book to write in this area I went through my blog and copied over anything that was relevant. This came to about 30,000 words. Now, some of that I didn’t use in the end, and nearly all of it I rewrote to an extent (there is a very interesting different tone of voice between book and blog). But nevertheless, for a 60,000 word book, to have nearly half of it in some form straight-off is a real kickstart. Whenever I do my blogging pitch people ask me ‘how do you find the time’, and I often counter that once you get past a certain point, it becomes a time saver. I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog. I sometimes found myself writing something and then thinking ‘hold on, haven’t I done something on this before?’ and I’d go back to the blog to find an erudite, well formed and argued article/rambling piece of nonsense that suited my needs.

What I like about a book is that you can make an extended argument, loop forward and refer back within one coherent piece. You can do the referring back in blogs but you write those over an extended period, and they’re usually short pieces. The book allows you a longer run at a subject and you have a reasonably clear idea how these ideas will build on each other. Blogs are much better at capturing thoughts over an extended time frame and for patterns to emerge. Like my last book, I didn’t realise I was in the process of writing this book on my blog for a period of a year or two. Then I began to see a common thread between posts that could benefit from the extended book approach. Again, how do people write books without blogs?

And why a book and not something more creative? Jim Groom might chastise me for being beholden to that text stuff. Alan Levine would have done something far more creative using photos and an application he developed himself. I could answer this by arguing that the form was appropriate for the content, but actually that’s not true. Others could have done something far more innovative and said the same thing. In the end I think it’s because, to paraphrase Laura Marling, I write because I can. It’s what I’m half-decent at, so you may as well go with that.

So, let’s end with some Laura:

Models for book publishing

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 04/12/2014 - 17:36

If you’re into edtech/open education (and who isn’t?) then your cup runneth over these last couple of weeks with books to read. There are four I’ll highlight (including mine!) and they represent different approaches to writing and publishing, so they make a nice comparison.

First up is Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities. Martin is a great OA champion and this book explores the context and issues surrounding OA for the humanities. It’s published by Cambridge University Press, with the digital version available under CC-BY-SA licence. This represents a fairly traditional model, with publisher paying the author some royalties, although often a bit reduced from the normal rate. (Martin contributes his royalties to Arthritis research by the way). The publisher is taking the punt that it will sell enough copies to make a profit on the investment required for the services in producing the book (copyediting, layout, etc).

My book, The Battle for Open, represents a slightly different approach. It’s published by Ubiquity Press (who we recently linked up with for JIME also, they’re my new publishing BFFs). They operate a ‘gold’ model, where you pay upfront for the services. However, they’re not looking to make a profit on the book then, and as with their journals, these costs are reasonable. Depending on the services you choose, it is around £3-4,000. Now that’s a lot for an individual, but in terms of research projects, it’s the same sort of price as going to a fancy conference overseas, and that type of dissemination is regularly built into budgets. I would argue that publishing an open access book might be a better use of such funds. I’ve heard tales from colleagues who’ve been quoted figures along the lines of £20,000 from big academic publishers to make their book open access. This is taking no risk at all, since that would probably cover the profit on a regular book anyway. This is available CC-BY in PDF, Kindle, epub formats, with the hardcopy available for the reasonable price of £12.99.

Next are two books that come from blogging chums. David Kernohan’s A New Order and Audrey Watters’ The Monsters of Education Technology. Both of these arose from a hackathon exploring self-publishing. David’s is a collection of his blog posts and Audrey’s her keynote talks. The digital versions are freely available under CC licences again (although I’d urge you to buy the digital format of Audrey’s one).

There are a few interesting things about this approach to me. Firstly, it’s a good example of that guerrilla approach to research that I like to bang on about. David and Audrey didn’t need anyone’s permission to publish these books. Secondly, both books are really good, better than many monographs we see published. This is, of course, primarily a function of their ability as writers, but it also demonstrates the value in spending time on smaller outputs. David’s blog is always worth reading, and Audrey’s keynotes are like masterclasses. In her book she says people keep telling her she’s going about keynotes the wrong way, you’re meant to do one and then repeat it (guilty as charged), but she spends ages creating a new one each time. This book demonstrates the value in doing that, as does David’s in keeping a blog where you explore issues that fall outside your daily job.

I like all four of these books (especially mine) for their subject matter, but more so because they demonstrate that different models to book publishing are possible and valid. These different models will meet the needs of different authors, and the good thing is, they’re all appropriate. When I started blogging I was intrigued by the changes that the digital approach made to academic practice. I think we’ve all become a bit jaded to that now, but these four publications demonstrate that it is still an interesting, and ongoing process. Anyway, that’s your Christmas reading list sorted right there.

Better than Christmas – OER Research hub report

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 25/11/2014 - 10:17


The OER Research Hub completed its second annual report for the founders, the Hewlett Foundation in September. It plots the evidence we’ve gained against the 11 hypotheses of the project. It’s not the final report which we will deliver next year, but it has some very interesting findings. We have over 6000 survey responses from educators, informal and formal learners, and librarians.

Some of the key findings are:

  • 37.6% of educators and 55.7% of formal learners say that using OER improves
    student satisfaction
  • 27.5% of educators and 31.9% of formal learners agree that OER use results
    in better test scores
  • 79.4% of OER users adapt resources to fit their needs
  • 79.5% of educators use OER to get new ideas and inspiration
  • 88.4% of learners say that the opportunity to study at no cost influenced
    their decision to use OER
  • 74.9% of informal learners use OER to have a learning experience
  • Knowing where to find resources is one of the biggest challenges to using OER
  • General knowledge of well-established OER repositories is low
  • Only 5% of educators say they don’t share information about OER
  • The more educators use OER, the more they are willing to share
  • Only 12.4% of educators create resources and publish them on a Creative Commons license
  • Videos are the most common type of OER used.
  • Cost of and access to materials can have an effect on student retention
  • 40.9% of all formal learners in our sample consider that OER have a positive impact in helping them complete their course of study
  • 79.6% of formal students think they save money by using OER
  • 31.5% of informal learners say that their interest in using OER is a chance to try university-level content before signing up for a paid-for course
  • 31.3% say their use of OER influenced their decision to register for their current course.
  • 83.2% of informal learners say they are more likely to take another free course or study a free open educational resource, and 24.2% say that they would go on to take a paid for course as a result of using OER

There is still a lot more to do, in particular we really want to get at good comparative data demonstrating improvement in scores (or otherwise) following OER adoption, so if anyone has leads in that area please get in touch. Nevertheless, I would contend that this represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of OER impact, and so will be of interest to anyone in the field.

We’ll be doing further analysis and digging into some of the findings in further detail over the coming months. The report is available under a CC-By licence, and available in a nicely designed PDF booklet, so really, your Christmas wishes are already fulfilled, which is nice.

Innovating Pedagogy report 2014

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 14/11/2014 - 15:30

It’s been slightly over a year since the last Innovating Pedagogy report, and 2014’s edition is now available. As before it was written by a small team in IET at the OU. The remit is to look at technology related innovations, but with more of a teaching and learning perspective than some of the technical reports around. We try not to revisit topics from previous years, although if some significant development has occurred then we will. This is the 3rd of these reports, and when we started we wondered if we’d run out of topics without revisiting things, but actually there were at least another 10 we listed that we wanted to write about, but felt it prudent to keep it to ten. So the topics included this year are:

  • Massive open social learning
  • Learning design informed by analytics
  • Flipped classroom
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

A lot of these are not necessarily new this year, and could have been incorporated in our first report, but it’s about trying to gauge when they gain enough momentum to be of interest to a reasonably wide audience. The report is written in an accessible style (we hope) and aims to be relevant to a broad audience in education. As always it’s not intended to be the definitive list of things that are significant, rather some topics we think are of interest. Anyway, you can download the report here and share with friends.

JIME, Ubiquity & OA models

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 13/11/2014 - 12:32


I’m a co-editor of JIME at the Open University. It’s had a long tradition here, started in KMi it piloted open peer review, using it’s own software back in the late 90s. It has always been open access, and when maintaining our own software became a burden, it switched to using the open source system OJS. It’s focus has changed over the years – although it’s called the Journal for Interactive Media in Education, it is more about open education and ed tech in HE now. It has remained free to publish in and open access. I think its story is similar to that of many journals run by universities, they tend to operate on the periphery of people’s time. This means we can’t spend as much effort on things such as updating the website, implementing new features, experimenting with technology, or pushing it through different library registers and databases as we’d like, because any time we do have for it is spent on maintaining the core journal operations.

We’re now entering a new phase of JIME’s life, which I think offers a model for other university owned journals. We have stopped hosting and maintaining the site, and handed that side of things over to Ubiquity Press (who are also publishing my book, more of which later in another post). Ubiquity use OJS at the back end and they keep the Article Processing Charges (APCs) as low as possible at £300 per article, to handle all the back end work (their model is explained here). Compared with the £3000 type APC fee from many publishers this represents a reasonable charge, and it also includes a portion which goes to a fund to allow fee waivers for anyone who can’t pay the fee. I’ve been critical of Gold OA before, but I think it’s a question of degree, a modest charge to cover the type of work that is needed to run a journal site, do all the library stuff, layout, etc. seems appropriate.

Because JIME has always been free to publish we didn’t want to start charging APCs, so IET are covering the cost of 3 issues per year. This isn’t that costly (as our US friends say, you do the math). And previously we were probably spending more than this in staff time for the technical input and admin time spent on running our own system. It also allows us editors to concentrate on the stuff we do know about, the academic side of things, instead of running the journal. Ubiquity will handle updates to the new system, and implement things such as altmetrics.

When universities talk about impact, and outreach, paying for a handful of such journals from each university would represent a modest outlay for any one institution, but a considerable overall collection of journals. All free to publish and free to access. Some of these costs could come from the library funds currently spent paying large publishing firms who make considerable profits. It’s a critical mass problem, when enough universities do it, then it’s worthwhile and makes an impact on the bigger system, so becomes more worthwhile to participate in. We’ve taken the step, why not join us?

Eduball

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:42


I read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball over the summer (you’ve probably seen the Brad Pitt adaptation). It’s a great account of how stripping baseball down to the stats allowed a small team to compete against teams with much larger budgets. What is particularly intriguing is how this multi-million dollar industry was basically doing it all wrong. Mythology, tradition, inherited wisdom created a culture where certain attributes were overvalued, and others undervalued. Players who were invaluable to a team when you looked at their stats were passed over by every single club, because their shape was wrong, or they didn’t look right when they swung a bat.

It’s hard not to read it and draw some analogies with education, and in particular the learning analytics approach. I imagine a copy of Moneyball sits on every analytics nerd’s bookshelf. There are undoubtedly parallels that can be drawn, but equally interesting is why the Moneyball approach doesn’t work in education.

Let’s consider some of those similarities first. Education is rather shrouded in mystery, folklore and received wisdom. We don’t know what works, but we know what’s good when we see it. It is an industry with a lot of money involved in it and like baseball people care passionately about it. It is also often resistant to change. To the analytical mindset the only outcome worth considering is scores. And in improving scores, I will bet there is as much in education that is irrelevant as there is in Lewis’s account of baseball. Teachers are like the wizened old scouts telling the Harvard whizkid that will never fly, and education just isn’t done like that.

There is something undeniably romantic about this vision of the outsider coming in with their new method and revealing all the wastage, all the misinformation that people have been operating with for centuries. And, I genuinely believe analytics will reveal some surprising and unsettling findings for educators, and that long-cherished beliefs about what’s important simply won’t hold up against the data.

But it’s also worth considering why education isn’t like baseball. Firstly, baseball, for all it’s romanticism and mythology, is much simpler. There are very simple, observable metrics – games won, runs scored. You can add in more, but really that’s all you need to work against. This is not the case in education, although the increased obsession with scores attempts to make it so. There are a lot of other things you’re doing in education beyond those metrics – getting students to become critical thinkers, to develop skills in groupwork, communication, reflection, etc.

The reason it isn’t the case in education brings me onto the second major difference: Baseball is ruthless. The system doesn’t need to care if a promising player doesn’t make it, they can trade for someone with better stats. It can sacrifice all to achieving those metrics (and because baseball players are paid good money, this isn’t such an ethical dilemma). This is not the case in education. While some of the prestigious universities can keep up their status by ensuring only the best enter and stay, the system as a whole wants people to progress through, even if their ‘stats’ aren’t great. For the individual, for society, it’s better to have people coming through even if in moneyball terms you’d cut them.

I blog this partly to remind myself – sometimes an analogy is powerful and we tend to over-apply it. As with the disruption (klaxon) of the record industry, people have seen education as being exactly the same. It is important to see similarities, but also to recognise key differences. Anyway, go and read Moneyball if you have the time, it’s good fun.

Open by default

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 05/11/2014 - 14:26

I’ve heard this phrase a few times, often in relation to open data eg. the open data charter. I think it’s a useful starting position for those in higher ed, across all aspects of practice. That is, assume you should be operating openly, and only if there are valid reasons not to, shift away from that, instead of the reverse situation as it is now. It is important to emphasise that there are perfectly valid reasons why you may not be open in a particular aspect, eg an online learning forum for new learners may be better conducted in what they feel is a safe space. So open by default merely suggests that you should consider what you lose by not being open.

Open practice brings a number of benefits, depending on the particular task at hand. These include:

  • Altruism – it’s a good thing to do generally to share, and is at the heart of much of what academia is about.
  • Efficiency – if the feel-good factor of altruism doesn’t cut it for you, then there is a more pragmatic stance, that sharing content, ideas, data, source code is simply a more efficient way to work.
  • Increased profile – this can be important for research projects who want different stakeholders to know about their existence and to engage with them, individuals establishing an academic identity, and resources (eg open access articles) that you want to be widely accessed.
  • Dissemination – probably a combination of the previous two (efficiency and profile), but much of higher education is concerned with dissemination, and conducting this in an open manner is really the best route.
  • Wider participation – whether it is contribution to a project, forming ideas or getting learners to engage with a broader audience, then open practice offers an effective route.
  • Unexpected outcomes – we all have stories of how open practice can lead to (pleasant) unpredicted outcomes, such as the use of content in different contexts, new connections, the formulation of project ideas, etc.
  • Innovation – the open space is often one that allows room for experimentation and innovation outside of formal conventions.
  • Easy collaboration – it is actually really difficult to collaborate – it requires memorandums of understanding, project plans, commitment. I am (still) often reminded of Scott’s post about the difficulty of sharing, whereas being open just means it happens.

Those are quite considerable benefits. So the open by default stance says, before you surrender all of these, make sure what you are gaining by not being open is worthwhile. In essence: Is closed worth the cost? There will be many times when the answer to this question is yes, but one should at least make the case (even if it’s just to yourself) for this. Currently the reverse is true, which is actually quite odd when you consider it.

OER15 – now with added keynote awesome

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 24/10/2014 - 11:48

I mentioned that I’m co-chair of the OER15 conference in Cardiff next April. One of my duties was to sort out the keynote speakers, which was great as I get to ask people I really like and admire to come and talk. The theme of the conference is “Mainstreaming OER”. There is a sense that having been around for over a decade now, and established a sizeable community, the next stage of OER adoption is for it to enter into everyday, mainstream practice. This also means not just operating on belief and evangelism, but looking at issues around OER, and solid research.

It was this theme that shaped my choice of keynotes. They are on the website, but for completeness, I’ll list them here:

  • Josie Fraser – most of you will know Josie, and if you don’t, shame on you. I wanted Josie to speak because, apart from being a great speaker and fun person, she’s been doing some really great work with OERs on schools (look out for more on this soon from Josie). And if we’re going to mainstream OER they need to move away from a higher ed focus and get into schools.
  • Cable Green – Cable is Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons. As such he’s done work on policy at different levels, has worked with all aspects of open education and driven a lot of mainstream adoption. I’ve had the pleasure of being at a few conferences with Cable and he’s an excellent speaker. There is no-one better suited to the subject of mainstreaming OER than Cable.
  • Sheila MacNeill – like Josie, if you’re in OER/ed tech in the UK in particular then you have to know Sheila. She was also another obvious choice for me when the topic of mainstreaming OER was agreed. Sheila brings a wealth of experience from her CETIS days and her current role in GCU. If we are to make OER part of everyday practice then Sheila’s experience of working at the coalface as it were will be invaluable.
  • Martin Weller – errm, okay, look, we were going to have only 3 keynotes, but I worried that people would need to leave the conference early, so didn’t want to waste a proper keynote on this slot. So in a buy 3 get 1 free deal, I’ll do a battle for open thing. And besides my co-chair Haydn, begged me to do a keynote and you don’t like to see a grown man beg (I may have made that bit up).

Anyway, if you were undecided about coming to OER15 then I’m sure that keynote line-up has you booking your tickets to Cardiff.

Nice is an energy

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:33

I’ve thought about writing a lot of posts recently about all the online toxicity about, but none of them seem adequate or appropriate. Alan Levine asks if the Party is Over. I read Kate Bowles lovely article on kindness and it resonated with what I wanted to say. I am deeply aware that this post will come across as weak, dippy, inadequate. But here goes.

Amidst all this anger, vitriol and nastiness, what is the appropriate response? I think that depends on who you are. For my own mental wellbeing I really can’t enter the bearpit of confrontation or disappear down wormholes of anger. I really get that some people feel this is what you have to do, but trust me, I can’t. So my response seems like a lack of response, a big meh. But it’s not. My approach is to be nice to others. Kindness, respect, politeness in my general tone online. Nice is a political statement too.

Identity theory suggests we form our own identity by a sense of belonging, or ‘we-ness’. If the community is one of nice people, then those are the attributes you adopt if you wish to belong. Similarly, Kelty talks of ‘recursive publics’, which he defines as ‘a public that is constituted by a shared concern for maintaining the means of association through which they come together as a public’. The wellbeing of each other can be shared concern. We can help create the environment we want.

Nice/kind/polite are often portrayed as passive, but they’re not. They take effort. Being angry is easy. They needn’t be bland either – you can be funny, you can disagree with someone, offer criticism, put over a strong point of view, etc. But you can be respectful when you do it. Of course, being nice is no response if you’re the direct victim of online vitriol. I mean for the rest of us, actively being kind is the long-term way to defeat it. For every nasty tweet you read, do five random tweets of kindness.

I don’t know if it’s enough if I’m honest, vitriol has a way of contaminating everything else. And I’m also aware it’s probably a luxury afforded to me in a privileged position. But niceness is the best weapon I’ve got. And I think it’s undervalued.

OER15 is go

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Wed, 08/10/2014 - 17:28

So what are you doing next April 14 & 15th? If you have any sense you are coming to Cardiff, for OER15. I’m co-chair this year along with Haydn Blackey, with Debbie Baff running the show. The theme is “Mainstreaming Open Education”, with the aim being to explore approaches that are moving OER (& OEP) into the mainstream, and also barriers that need to be addressed for that to happen.

I’m also really pleased to announce that the OER conference is now formally part of ALT. This is great as it secures the long term stability of the conference, and means it has all the support and expertise that ALT bring to running an event. It also means we get on-tap Hawksey magic. And who wouldn’t want that? So big thanks to Maren and the ALT team for taking us in.

We’ve just launched the website, some new bits coming soon. We’ve got some great keynotes lined up that we’ll unveil shortly. The venue is the super-lovely Royal Welsh College of Music. Only a fool, a fool I tell ya, would miss out on that. So get submitting, the deadline for abstracts is 24th Nov 2014.

Here you can see Haydn and I auditioning as a new comedy double act:

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Open Access good news, bad news

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 30/09/2014 - 16:33

There was an interesting report done by market analysts, which claims that the threat to publishers from open access is fading. The threat has receded, and indeed OA may have increased profits for publishers. In short, publishers have nothing to fear in terms of profit from OA.

Good news one might think. This was exactly the argument many OA advocates made for its adoption. Making articles openly available increases uptake. Publishers don’t need to resist OA, and if we want to make it really mainstream, then getting publishers on board is the quickest route.

But, from a different perspective, it’s also a bad news story for open access. The report concludes that:

“The hybrid model deployed by subscription publishers to meet the requirements of the UK government is not threatening in any visible way the subscription model of the journals; the rate of adoption of deposit policies for US federal agencies, and the embargo period of 12 months also protect the position of subscription publishers”

In other words, publishers have successfully managed to carry on with their old model whilst simultaneously taking money for the new OA approach also, and this has been helped by the UK government policy. This isn’t really an open access victory, as the subscription model is still surviving, publishers are just getting paid twice. Curt Rice suggests that it is a failure of leadership on the part of open access that has caused this situation. Publishers now own the open access debate.

I would suggest that this is another example of the battle for open (I know, what isn’t an example to me?). Open Access starts out trying to make its argument. It is resisted, but eventually it begins to succeed in getting uptake. Academics get on board, then journals, funding agencies and governments. It looks like a big win, as open access becomes a standard approach. But then the real battle begins. While seeming to comply, it begins to take shape in a different form, and the hybrid model, with embargos and big publisher profits becomes the accepted model. But that wasn’t what was planned. So the next question is: Who owns the direction of open access?

It’s not reuse, it’s adaptation

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Mon, 29/09/2014 - 15:43

(I posted this over on the OER Research Hub originally, just reblogging here)

Reuse of OERs is an elusive, even mythical creature, so much so that Alan Levine has compared finding it to tracking Bigfoot. David Wiley has spoken of ‘dark reuse‘, like dark matter, we assume it’s going on but we can’t see it. But maybe we’re looking for the wrong thing, or at least calling it the wrong name.

We’ve just completed our annual report for the Hewlett Foundation, and reviewed our findings against the 11 hypotheses. We’ll put up the full report later, and dig into findings some more, but one thing that struck me was how much people say they adapt online resources. Contrary to findings on OER reuse, our surveys across informal learners, educators and formal learners uncovered a comparatively high level of adaptation amongst all types of users of 79.4%, (n=1765).

However, how people interpret adaptation varies. For some users it means using the resources as inspiration for creating their own material, as this quote illustrates:

“What I do is I look at a lot of free resources but I don’t usually give them directly to my students because I usually don’t like them as much as something I would create, so what I do is I get a lot of ideas.”

While this is an important use of OER (and perhaps under-reported), it arises principally as a result of their online availability rather than openness. However the freedom to reuse ideas is encouraged with an open licence and users feel free to do so. For other users, adaptation is more direct, editing or reversioning the original, aggregating elements from different sources to create a more relevant one, as this quote demonstrates:

“The problem where I teach now is that we have no money; my textbooks, my Science textbooks are 20 years old, they’re so out-dated, they don’t relate to kids (…) so I pick and pull from a lot of different places to base my units; they’re all based on the Common Core; for me to get my kids to meet the standards that are now being asked of them, I have no choice, I have to have like recent material and stuff they can use that’ll help them when they get assessed on the standardised test.”

And for others, adaptation may be taking an existing resource and placing it in a different context within their own material. The resource isn’t adapted, but the manner in which it is used is altered.

What this suggests is that there may be a continuum of adaptation in practice, ranging from adapting ideas for their own material to full reversioning of content. So why is there this discrepancy between our findings and the commonly reported dearth of reuse? Maybe it’s semantics? Reuse is perhaps a very OER specific way of putting it, and people aren’t sure if what they’ve done counts as reuse. Or maybe reuse sounds cheap, like stealing, whereas adapting has connotations of improving, taking ownership of, being active. Or maybe we’ve just been asking the wrong people. I think it is less a case of dark reuse as varied adaptation, and that is an interesting picture. As usual people aren’t quite doing what we expected of them, but something slightly different. Those pesky people.

Your career is a research project

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 25/09/2014 - 10:57

I must confess, I have a mild warning klaxon that sounds when I see “action research” in a thesis. This is not to say it isn’t a valid methodology, indeed the only way to conduct some research, but it’s one of those fashionable terms that people apply rather loosely. If in doubt, call it action research. That thing you did where you gave them a different text book one year? Action research.

But this isn’t a rant against lazy methodology terminology, as I am now going to co-opt the term for my own use. Rather it is to say that ideally academics should view their own careers as an action research project. As well as conducting the research in their discipline, they should conduct research on themselves on how to do that research. This is particularly true in a digital, networked context. We have many more possibilities available now for how every aspect of research is performed: generating ideas, methodology, dissemination, funding, data, participants. It would seem a waste of these possibilities and the intellects involved to merely continue with the same limited approach out of habit alone.

I always try to stress that it is not a case of X is dead and has been replaced by the new digital version, but rather that we have a more diverse range of tools to select from. And yet many academics are reluctant to engage with these. This is often a result of an anxiety that these won’t be perceived as ‘proper’ scholarship compared with the traditional approaches. I think if organisations and promotion committees in particular focused on this aspect of using your own career as a research project then it would legitimise this experimentation.

There is a strange irony in the present context that at the very time we have the opportunity for experimentation in academic practice, the environment in which it operates is becoming increasingly conservative and strictly defined. The public perception of universities, the manner in which tenure is granted, the student funding model and the increasingly complex process to gain research funding all work against the type of experimentation we would want to encourage. It sometimes feels like we’ve been given free access to the Louvre and been asked to count the lightbulbs.

But I would encourage the attitude of career as action research if possible. Now I think about it, action research may not be the methodology, maybe it’s autoethnography. I have a really big klaxon for that one, but that’s another post.

How to sell soul to a soulless people

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Sun, 14/09/2014 - 09:25

This was the question posed by Public Enemy back in 2007. Apple’s answer is to put U2’s album on everyone’s iPhone. This has been commented about endlessly, but I was interested by my own reaction when I saw it there. I felt something akin to revulsion. Now I know logically that I can just delete it, what’s the big deal. And I also know apps push stuff at me all the time, so what’s the difference here?

Pondering my own reaction (and that of many others), I think the answer is that music is related to identity. I posted many years ago that digital formats changed our sense of ownership, and that owning music used to be a strong part of your identity. “Look through my record collection” used to be an invite to get to know someone better. This has undoubtedly changed, one has only to consider what it’s like to be a Spotify customer where you have immediate access to just about every record ever made. Selection and ownership are less important then.

But I think what Apple failed to understand (or understood perfectly well, but didn’t care), is that your music library still feels like yours. On Twitter people pointed out to me that I didn’t own a phone, but rather rented a content delivery service. But I still feel like that library is mine. I’ve chosen what goes in there. I know no-one else cares, but it’s like your real library at home, those books have been selected by you. Some you may hate, some you may not have finished, some relate to a specific point in your life, and so on. But they are an extension of who you are. Having someone else place items in your music library feels far more intrusive than pushing an advert at me, or sending me a notification because it is eroding a sense of identity. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that tools that help us establish and define that identity in a digital age are the ones that will be successful. Apple demonstrated that their belief is that the only identity to have is theirs, and for such a modern company, that seems an old-fashioned view.

Now, if they had put this track on everyone’s iPhone, I wonder what the reaction would’ve been:

To what extent is education a digital product?

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Fri, 05/09/2014 - 07:13

This is an obvious, even old-fashioned question. I was thinking about it the other day, and I realised that not only is it actually the question I’ve been answering on this blog for the past 8 years or so, it is the key question for education. Having been to numerous ed tech conferences, it is also the overarching question each of them is really addressing.

The “to what extent” is the important element, because that doesn’t mean “it is”. The answer can be “not at all”, “some bits” or “completely”, depending on your perspective. If you look at many ed tech developments, and the reactions to them, they can be boiled down to different interpretations of this question. MOOCs are an obvious example, for the MOOC hypers, Clay Shirky, Thrun, et al, the answer to this question was pretty near 100%. For many MOOC critics, the answer would be nearer 0% (education isn’t a product, and the components you can make digital are the least important).

You could take issue with the “product” part, and can replace that with “service”, and you could make a case against the underlying neoliberalism inherent in the question. But I would contend that even if this is the case, then being able to defend and articulate a position against this question is what you will be doing for much of the next decade, because this is the question everyone else is implicitly, or explicitly, seeking to answer.

If you have a new Vice Chancellor, boss, colleague or whatever, I would suggest that asking them this one question might be quite illuminating. And more importantly, ask the question of yourself. As for me, I think it’s…

 

Kill yr idols (or not)

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Thu, 04/09/2014 - 14:14

I’ve been meaning to write a “twitter isn’t as much fun as it used to be” kind of post for a while. Then Bonnie Stewart went and did it, but you know, with added eloquence and thought. It’s been an idea a few ed techers have been mumbling about online for a while now. On almost the same day as Bonnie’s post David Kernohan gave an excellent talk at ALT-C on this subject.

The argument goes something like this: online communication and networks used to be fun, but they’ve become not only boring now, but as David put it, scary. This is partly a result of professional types now manipulating social media, and partly because people now pay attention.

Sheila MacNeill asked David a good question which was along the lines of “are you just upset that the great unwashed have turned up now and ruined your place that used to be cool?”

I think there is something in this. Back in the day, those of us who blogged and then used twitter were always advocating how great they would be if everyone used them. And then they did. The thrill of being right (for once) was offset by the disappointment at what inevitably happened. And here is the quandary for ed tech – we want people to take it seriously, but when they do it becomes something else. As soon as what you said in social media mattered then people wanted to control it. Or at least fire people who said the wrong thing, and as this Pew Internet report highlights, this leads to self-censorship and a spiral of silence. Self censorship is still censorship.

The same might be said of MOOCs. It was fun when no-one was watching, but then everyone started paying attention and it got all corporate. In the TV series Extras, Ricky Gervais character is given this very blunt choice by his agent:

“do you want fame and fortune, or do you want integrity and respect?”

Because he can’t have both. And this is what I’m not sure about, can we have both in edtech? Or must this year’s fun thing always become next year’s VLE or die?

Anyway, here’s Sonic Youth telling you to kill your idols. Because it’s the end of the world, and confusion is sex, or something like that.

Open researcher open course

The EdTechie Martin Weller's Personal Blog - Tue, 26/08/2014 - 09:48

Led by Beck Pitt, the OER Research Hub has developed an open course (don’t use the M word) on P2P University on being an open researcher. It is four weeks long, although you can study it anytime and it’s all available at once. The weeks cover:

  • Open research
  • Ethics in the open
  • Open dissemination
  • Reflecting on open

It’s based on our experience of running the OER Research project as an open project. There are a number of interesting things that happen when you try to operate in the open. For instance, what ethical considerations are there to releasing data? What communication methods are most effective? The course explores these, using the fictional Mr O’pen. He’ll be in a pixar film before you know it.

The facilitated course starts on 15th September, although you could be doing it now if you want. There will be a weekly Google Hangout every Thursday over the 4 weeks of the course, with one pre-course hangout on the 11th. Take a look, we’re all finding out what being an open researcher means still, it’s not a defined set of approaches, so maybe there will be something there that works for you.

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