If there’s one thing that educators, and especially those involved in educational technology agree upon, it’s that the time for ‘business as usual’ as come to an end:
All of us, especially within the EdTech community, can begin to think about how to develop ‘resilient education’. That is, a pedagogy and curriculum that both encourages and fosters the radical change that is necessary as well as ensuring that the present depth, breadth and quality of education is sustainable in a future where there may be less abundance and freedom than we have become accustomed to. (Joss Winn, 2009)
Whilst I certainly wouldn’t label myself a Marxist, I do agree with Richard Hall’s critique of Capitalism and the enclosure of public spaces where ‘non-legitimised’ skills currently flourish:
A global range of skills, alongside stories in which they might be situated, exist in spaces that remain as yet unenclosed. These spaces might be harnessed collaboratively for more than profiteering, or the extraction of surplus value or further accumulation or financialisation, or alienation. We teach and re-think these skills and these ways of thinking every day with other staff and students and within our communities of practice. We need the confidence to imagine that our skills might be shared and put to another use. We need the confidence to defend our physical and virtual commons as spaces for production and consumption. We need the confidence to think ethically through our positions. We need the confidence to live and tell a different story of the purpose of technology-in-education. (Richard Hall, 2011)
We can see this in the way, for example, Pearson have labelled their new, ‘free’ LMS offering ‘OpenClass’ and Blackboard talk about the way their system is ‘open’ because academics can choose to CC license work within their system. It’s nothing less than the commoditisation of Open Education.*
1. capable of being bent, usually without breaking; easily bent: a flexible ruler.
2. susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable: a flexible schedule.
3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable: a flexible personality.
1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
There’s a subtle difference between the two positions: one is active and one is passive. One is future-shaping and empowering whilst the other looks for authority elsewhere.
My three main areas of research are Open Educational Resources (OER), Mobile Learning and Digital Literacies. I have no problem talking and writing about the latter of these – it is, after all, the subject of a thesis I’ve been writing for the last few years. Mobile learning, too, presents no great issue: I used mobile devices in the classroom as a teacher and Director of e-Learning. Moreover, because it’s a relatively new area there’s only a few ‘experts’ to which to defer.
OER is a different kettle of fish. Not only is it a increasingly-mature area of study but it’s a political minefield. Coupled to the fact that it’s very much a Higher Education-focused area of enquiry, I haven’t ventured many opinions publicly. However, as I continue to develop the OER infoKit with consultant Lou McGill I feel that I do have something to say about OER.
So here goes… (and this is my opinion, not my employer’s, etc.)
Recently I’ve been going back through the key posts in the OER debate curated by Lou McGill on the OER infoKit here. It makes for fascinating reading as, not only are there some very intelligent people arguing against each other (always interesting!) but it’s evident that OER is a battleground not over educational practice but ideology.
I’m a big fan of the philosophy of Pragmatism, as espoused by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, and developed by luminaries such as John Dewey, W.V. Quine and Richard Rorty. My rule of thumb is that things worth pursuing should be ‘good in the way of belief’. In fact, it’s probably worth wheeling out the 10 guiding statements about what Pragmatism means from my thesis:
Pragmatism is an anti-skeptical endeavour.
Dividing lines between theory and action are arbitrary.
Truth is conditional and dependent upon a community of inquirers.
Human experience of the external world is ineffable.
Pragmatism is method of ‘un-thinking’ rather than providing an explicit framework.
A universally-held set of beliefs is impossible.
Any statement can be accommodated as ‘true’ by amending a belief system to a greater or lesser extent.
Knowledge is a matter of social practice rather than mirroring nature.
We ‘create’ rather than ‘discover’ truth.
New concepts are often understood through metaphor, enter common usage, and then ‘die off into literalness’.
So, what has this got to do with ‘user outcomes’? I think there’s three points I’d like to make about OER in this regard.
1. There’s nothing special about OER
Stripped back to basics, there’s nothing magical or especially revolutionary about Open Educational Resources. An educator allows others to use the materials they prepared. This has been happening ever since people have been able to share things.
The revolutionary thing comes in the co-ordination of the system around such sharing. The first massive massive boon to this has been the widespread adoption of Creative Commons licenses. These allow resource creators to state explicitly the conditions under which others can use what they have created. The second, which is perhaps where organizations such as JISC have been instrumental, is the expansion of open-access repositories like Jorum. Instead of merely unco-ordinated and fragmented institutional and personal repositories, there is a growing expectation that a copy of OERs will be deposited in such repositories.
As Mike Caulfield puts it, people do things out of habit because of established frameworks. He uses the simile of recipes:
If a recipe had to explain everything about cooking — what it was to beat an egg, what it meant to mix something, how broiling differed from sauteeing — well, no one would write recipes, and no one would use them. Recipes exist in a system of cooking that is relatively narrowly defined — the framework is in place, it just needs this thing called the recipe to work.
If we want people to share OERs then we need to make it easy for them to do so. But more than that, it needs to become just another thing that’s expected of educators.
2. There are no meaningful metrics for OERs
Not everything that can be measured should be measured; the pig doesn’t get any fatter by weighing it. If sharing and openly-licensing resources is a good thing that educators should do, then it needs to be an expected part of professional practice.
As I have often said with metrics such as numbers of followers on Twitter or winning awards, true influence is a fickle beast. Quantity is not quality. So what if one resource has been used 100,000 times and another one only 14? Unless you know in what circumstances and for what purposes it was used in each case, the task is meaningless. And even then the parts can be more than the sum – just look at the REF.
The point is that OER release is adding to and improving the quality of the sum of human understanding, in an even more profound way than a research paper or press release. A good OER is written to support deep learning and this is the advantage that academia, which is unique in grappling with these issues every day, can bring.
An OER might never find itself being reused, but the process by which it is created is inherently valuable. It’s about mindsets, not metrics.
3. It’s not about OER, it’s about Openness
I can feel the vitriol that this comment will no doubt engender, but just how many people banging on about OER have taught in a classroom environment? And I don’t mean the occasional webinar or guest lecture, I mean preparing lessons day-in, day-out over years. It makes a difference to the way you approach the issue.
Scroll back up and read statements 2, 6 and 8 again. Whilst academic ideas and debates are important, the point – to paraphrase Marx – is not to describe the world but to change it. Waiting for everyone to agree about OERs before getting on and doing something about changing the system is a fool’s errand. No amount of posturing changes practice.
What’s much more important is to change the mindsets of educators so that OER release and reuse is an outflow of something they want to do. Thankfully, I think that Amber Thomas (another JISC programme manager) understands this:
Its worth saying… that of course open content isn’t just about the content … because it is also a manifestation of a way of working … and the benefits of the open way of working are:
knowing that content will be public is an incentive to improve the content
collaborative development improves the work: the many eyes principle
the best thing to do with your data/idea will be thought of by someone else
if the public have paid, the public should benefit
It would be remiss of me not to reference the excellent critiques of OER by Joss Winn and Richard Hall at this point. Read them, they’re eye-opening and staggeringly well-written.
Sadly, what I think is almost entirely lacking in the debate (apart perhaps from in Amber’s commentary) is an understanding that OER is merely a supply-side term for something that, let’s face it, educators should be doing anyway. Joss Winn’s qualms noted, it still seems manifestly obvious that if educators are funded by the taxpayer then what they do should be for the public good. And to my mind, that includes being as open as possible. I’m not particularly bothered if OERs are good for marketing, good for career progression or good for the REF. They’re good in the way of belief.
It really doesn’t seem like a year ago that I posted My digital reading workflow but the time had nevertheless come to sort out new workflows in a new environment. When you’re working online all day, every day, things work a little differently.
Regular readers will know how much of an influence Joss Winn’s post Working on the web had on me recently. It certainly motivated me into action regarding ‘clipping’ (and adding my thoughts) to stuff I come across. I’m now using Amplify for that. What I still need to sort out, however, are ways to ensure I own my own data – either via backing-up Delicious and the like or some other method.
I was in the shower yesterday when it struck me how the lowest points of my life have occurred during, or as a result of actions during, the months of November and December. I’m fine really, and it’s not in my best interests to go into details here, but suffice to say that whilst everything is OK on the family and work fronts, I really struggle internally at this time of the year. I’m convinced it’s got something to do with the lack of light – something that Josh Rouse sings of in Come Back (Light Therapy).
The Learning Without Frontiers Conference (London) in January is the only event I’m planning to attend between January and March, given the imminent arrival of Belshaw Junior #2. Even after that, given the huge disappointment of Online Educa Berlin (and general conference fatigue) I may cut things back to just those at which I’m presenting/facilitating/organising.