MoodleNet isn’t exactly my first foray into the world of Open Educational Resource (OER) sharing. I can’t believe that it’s now 17 years since I was, as a fresh-faced teacher, first involved in a European project around using bittorrent to share educational resources.
I feel like the global pandemic has helped sharpen our collective minds as open educators and edtech enthusiasts. It’s certainly made me realise that we should be using torrents to share resources. After all, the more people are ‘seeding’, the less it puts strain on the bandwidth at any one location!
The great thing about bittorrent is that it’s a mature decentralised technology. There’s lots of ways of achieving the same ends, but I want to show perhaps the quickest and easiest way of getting openly-licensed educational content added to a torrent that you can then share with others.
How does bittorrent work?
You don’t need to understand how it works to use it, any more than you need to know how encryption works to shop or bank online. But in case you’re interested…
Make sure you’ve got some openly-licensed content. If you don’t have any of your own to share, you can find some at OER Commons or via this list.
Fill in the required fields to provide more information about the files to be uploaded. Then press the blue button to continue:
Once the files have been uploaded, you (and everyone else on the web) will see a screen similar to this one. There’s some additional processing to take place, but you should be able to see ‘torrent’ in the right-hand sidebar:
If you click to download the torrent, you should see something like this. While you may download the torrent to your computer, you can also just choose to open it directly in your bittorrent app:
The torrent is added to the bittorrent app. As you can see, the Internet Archive has auto-converted my original upload into other formats. You can choose to download all files (default) or choose some to skip:
Here is the torrent about to start downloading to your machine. If you leave the bittorrent app running, you provide an additional node to ‘seed’ the files to others!
As you can see from the above, creating a torrent from files you already have (or can find!) is pretty straightforward.
The huge value of doing this via the Internet Archive is that they will always be seeding your torrent. This means there will never be a time when someone tries to download your torrent and there’s no seeds.
What could I do to improve this quick guide? Do you have any questions? Ask in the comments below!
Back in November last year, I was interviewed by the fine people people at the Digital2Learn podcast. We talked about a range of things, with the result actually coming out as two separate episodes this week.
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.
This can be considered part of my ongoing project to streamline and share each part of my workflow. See Web apps and workflows for more by way of explanation. You’ll notice I’ve added a ‘Research’ link in the top navigation for ease-of-access.
On Thursday 29th July it’s Google Teacher Academy (#GTAUK) in London. I’m a Lead Learner running the sessions on Google Earth. I’ve started putting together a wiki and ebook to accompany my session which will be of use to more than just those attending. You can access it (and help build it!) at http://sites.google.com/site/gtaukge.
I’m continuing the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies review I started last month, having some really interesting conversations with some extremely innovative people. There’s so much to learn and synthesize!
My thesis is starting to slightly concern me. Although I’ve announced that I’m no longer blogging here every day I’ve got so much left to do. The trouble isn’t the writing of the thing, it’s the keeping up with such a fast-moving field! I undertook my Ed.D. mainly because I love researching but I have to say I’ll be glad when it’s all over.
An idea went through my head earlier this week about a short, free ebook that would serve as a productivity kickstarter. I couldn’t stop thinking about what to include, how to format it, etc. so ended up spending a few hours writing #onfire: ignite your productivity. Do let me know what you think!
The above video is simply a rolling demo (no sound), but I’d encourage you to visit the OER infoKit itself. If you’re involved in education, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something worthwhile in it! 😀
I’m part of the team putting the finishing touches to the Open Educational Resources infoKit. It’s going to be launched in a couple of weeks’ time at the Higher Education Academy conference so I needed to ensure I was doing thing properly at my end. I approached David Kernohan, JISC Programme Manager and all-round OER guru after a wider e-learning team meeting down in Bristol this week. When I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do with the OER infoKit before launch, he told me to “make it shiny”. 🙂
Re-considering my workwear
Up until a couple of months ago I worked in schools. Which have 6-week holidays. So it’s pretty easy to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers all-year round. OK, so you might swelter for a couple of weeks, but it’s not worth buying whole new work outfits for such a short period of time.
It’s only really just hit me that I’ll be working all through the summer. Which is fine, but kind of means I should invest in some more workwear. And then there’s the whole roasting hot outside/air conditioning inside problem – but I’ll stop before I sound too metrosexual…
Buying (and almost buying) a new phone
I’d decided on the Nokia N900 as the replacement to my ageing iPhone 3G; I wanted something open and different. The trouble is, a crafty eBayer scammed me on Monday (I’ve since got my money back through Paypal) and then I managed to input my details incorrectly in my excitement at seeing that Carphone Warehouse had some reconditioned SIM-free N900s in stock for half their normal retail price. So I ended up N900-less.
In the end, I’m pleased I did have those problems, because the phone/tablet/slate/hybrid thing I bought yesterday really does seem to kick some ass. It’s a Dell Streak which sports a 5″ screen and runs Google’s Android operating system. I’m going to review it on Tuesday but suffice to say I feel very futuristic using it compared to my iPhone! :-p
Pulling out of the SHP Conference
I was due to speak with Nick Dennis at the annual Schools History Project Conference again this year, for the fourth year in a row. However, I’ve decided for a number of reasons, not least that I’m not currently in the classroom, to let Nick speak by himself at the conference this year. I’ll be helping out with the first-ever TeachMeet at the event virtually.
Getting excited about Google Teacher AcademyI’ve had a couple of conversations with the legendary Tom Barrett recently about the upcoming Google Teacher Academy on Thursday 29th July 2010. I’ll be running at least one of the sessions and am really looking forward to meeting innovative educators at the event!
I really would encourage you to apply to be one of the 50 at GTA UK. Everything you need to know is on this page and you need to apply by Thursday 17th June 2010. It involves both an online application and a 1-minute video. I know it’s a busy time of year and being held during the summer holidays, but you’ll definitely not be there if you don’t apply! 😀