I spent most of last week attending, for the first time, the annual OpenEd 2009 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Though this was not the first event combining academic grounding and practitioner insight, that I have attended, the openness of concepts and multiplicity of spaces – virtual and physical – for expression pushed me to think of education in many new ways. To put it briefly this event did not only provide an opportunity for reflection on the blurring of boundaries between scholarship and pedagogy, teaching/learning practices; it also provided a community space for activists and those interested in broadening the definitions of, and participation in, education and learning.
What follows are notes and reflections that fuelled during the last week – ordered and edited down over the course of the last few days. This certainly is not a comprehensive review of the conference or a report of the discussions I participated in, but an attempt to contribute to a dialogue over a number of interesting – some longstanding, others emerging – themes about openness, pedagogies and education.
Opportunities, moral imperatives and the nature of openness
Although the debate between David Wiley and Stephen Downes did not reach consensus on the nature of openness around the nature of openness surrounding education and learning – or indeed the degree to which the monopoly of formal institutions like the university and the school regarding credentials, is challenged – they agreed that a definition of open education should involve not only the creation of opportunities, but also capacities. Wiley’s response to Downe’s position that university’s monopoly on offering credentials is under attack, sparked two questions, which I think, can reshape the in/formal learning debate in institutional, cultural and financial terms: a) is it efficiency that needs funds to be sustained?; or b) a space that you need to spend a lot of time to soak up learning? Answers are evidently not straightforward. There’s certainly a moral mandate that underlines the global discourse on Open Educational Resources: sharing content with the world is good; mediating the context of creation and delivery even better. It’s not about discrediting disciplinary expertise and scholarly authorities – and this stirs up a number of important and unresolved questions of quality, legitimacy, ownership and confidence. But it is about mediating contexts of use and the multiplicities of purpose embedded in the interpretation of resources that may allow for more choice, opportunities for (inter) cultural appropriation. Certainly, as Wiley put it, open education represents a choice, precisely because it’s open and context, as well as, remix and repurposing, can too create meaning. And these are the nuances that digital networks can afford; in ways that can allow and represent more transparently.
Education cum/versus Learning
There was a consensus regarding the need to develop a more nuanced definition of open education in relation to what open learning means. The tensions between two – as did the tensions between codified and tacit knowledge – prevailed throughout the conference. How does the learning to remix words, audio or video in a countercultural or convivial fashion translate in a formal education context? What are the challenges in encoding and archiving the process of learning – let along being able to translate the distributed cognition in a meaningful way, and, for different purposes. Is too much structure in an Open Educational Resource useful or restrictive? To return to the Downes-Wiley debate, the former believes that OERs platforms work better if anyone freely uploads any type of resource - given that there’s a support mechanism for community forming around a particular resource. Wiley on the other hand, believes that there’s an inverse mechanism between someone’s knowledge base and their need to have structure for a particular learning purpose. Again, to conclude my reflections on the Wiley-Downes debate: if open educational resources are to represent a rich tapestry of the ways in which we manifest ourselves – the ways in which we immerse ourselves in multiple creativities – they too offer an inviting, lower-risk and lower-cost platform for being experimental and innovative in the field of education.
Using and Reusing OERs: tracing not only the who, what and when, but also the why and the how
I am not sure whether this was the one the ‘big issues’ of the conference this year, but I am certain it was lurking in many presentations and several discussions I participated in. It certainly underscores many approaches that define the code of fair use in Intellectual Property and copyright frameworks; and fair use remains a jurisdictional nightmare, continuing to be central in the agenda of the OER movement. Lila Bailey, a legal advisor for CC Learn, outlined a framework that formed the basis for survey currently being carried out by Creative Commons to investigate the ways in which international copyright exceptions and limitations can support a global learning commons. It’s a matter however that may go beyond simply surveying ‘best’ copyright laws and then modeling global or international reform. Only that would be ideal. Addressing the issue of copyright confusion among academic staff as a deterrent for publishing and sharing courseware Lindsey Weeramuni outlined the code of best practice on fair use that has been developed by MIT’s Open Courseware. There’re certainly many challenges pertaining the motivation– or lack thereof – for open publishing and sharing, which are aligned to home institutions’ copyright policies, academic faculty concerns over loosing ownership and control; fears over commercialization and vandalism; or, quite importantly, literacies pertaining infrastructural and socio-economic divides. And even if we put aside copyright restrictions or jurisdictions, are social and community-aligned participatory media the answer for addressing teacher confidence, for motivating the sharing and remixing of resources?
Certainly more systematic research into the actual practices and social environments that shape the use of OERs is needed. The gap between investment on OER development and evidence of use and reuse certainly dictates many discussions at OpenEd. And there’s certainly a lot of research undertaking linking individual or institutional cases mostly in the form of web metrics and social surveys; the task is then to develop a workable framework that would allow aggregation and meta-analysis of existing studies on use of, and learning through, OERs; a parallel – but even more difficult - task would be to develop a series of studies that would trace the turmoil of experimentation in open learning and open educational resource, exploring not only the ‘what’ and the ‘when’, but also the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. This may relate to Dave Cormier’s inspiring thoughts about OER’s being ‘the dictionaries of our time’
Quality, Relevance and Recognition
A lot of discussions, many presentations and some concluding sessions of the conference focused on the issues of quality metrics: There’s a lot to be said about establishing the legitimacy of OERs within specific institutional frameworks alongside aligned public spaces for discussion on open education. In a discussion I had with Catherine Ngugi, who opened the conference with an excellent key not on OER Africa, relevance, context and reward were identified as fundamental components for motivating teachers and students to participate in the OER movement. Joel Theirstein’s presentation on best practices in OER publication addressed the issue of modularization with the tensions between social networking and quality remaining prevalent. Connexions address this with endorsement systems and aims to contribution to standardized evaluation metrics and community controlled quality devices. Reputation, recognition and performance within a community of practice are still important in an OER context, as the founders of the P2P University initiative have argued. Can then the challenge for reusability and wider community engagement be addressed by developing straightforward and understandable metrics that connect find-ability (e.g. based on audience metrics and context/level) to adaptable quality metrics?
National Policies and OERs
Certainly before I went to the OpenEd conference this year I had a tendency to distinguish open content initiatives and reference resources from open courseware repositories. I had an impression, much like Cole Camplese that most discussions on OERs focus on distance, rather than resident education. Aside from the conference dissolving this impression, and many discussions making me hink more about OERs for opening up pedagogical experiences within either resident or distant learning contexts, the question of embedding OER development within national strategic and public policies on education, innovation – and I dare I say culture – also emerged. The question and relevant insights were addressed by Catherine Ngugi, Carolina Rossini (Brazilian Context) and Fred Mulder (Netherlands). Issues of local relevance – rather localization – are core here; as are
There are numerous themes that inspired me to want to research more the juxtaposition of marketing and moral mandates in open access, the connection between discourse and practice around the development of Open Educational Resources, certainly their contextual use, issues of quality and credibility and certainly the types of knowledge building and collaboration that fuel learning experiences. Some questions I have already posted in Cloudworks. I could continue writing …. But I guess the point is to contribute yet another communication channel – as a roving reporter and researcher – to the numerous spaces in the open education blogosphere, twitter streams (#opened09) and other social media scapes; I would like to conclude with a positive tone that came out of the final moments of the Wiley-Downes discussion: ‘we need to be patient in order for people to familiarize themselves with the affordances of OERs for use and reuse’.
More visuals on my Flickr Opened photostream