Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic
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Otago Polytechnic has adopted a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license and has been using the Wikieducator platform with other popular media sharing services to develop and publish Open Educational Resources and Practices. This article outlines some of the steps that the Polytechnic has taken, as well as some of the challenges being faced, and a vision for the future. It should be noted that this article has been written from the perspective of the author, and not necessarily from Otago Polytechnic as a whole.
This article has been written on the request of Ken Udas, editor of Terra Incognita a web journal by PennState University.
About Otago Polytechnic
The Otago Polytechnic is a public New Zealand tertiary education institute that graduates around 4500 students per year. It is centred in the city of Dunedin with campuses throughout the Southern (mostly rural) region of Otago including Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown, and supports a small number of Community Learning Centres in various regional towns.
Otago Polytechnic focuses on skills based, technical education and occupational training, offering a range of New Zealand accredited degrees, diplomas and certificates. (Wikipedia 24 Nov 2007)
The Educational Development Centre
In 2006 Otago Polytechnic established an Educational Development Centre (EDC) for staff development, online and flexible learning development, and research into educational development. This was an extension of a smaller staff development unit.
By mid 2006 the Polytechnic established a contestable fund for Departments and staff to apply for assistance in developing flexible learning opportunities in their courses, including skills and knowledge in teaching and/or facilitating flexible opportunities for learning and formal recognition. This fund was called the Flexible Learning Development Fund and was mediated by EDC.
By the end of 2006, three EDC Programme Developers were project managing around 20 course and programme development projects initiated by staff through the fund, as well as through research grants. The following article is an individual account of progress in this effort by one of the Programme Developers.
Staff development, weblogging and digital literacy
Through 2006 and 2007 EDC ran a range of professional development activities for staff, including two instances of the teacher training course Designing for Flexible Learning Practice (which is part of a larger teaching qualification now required by teaching staff at the Polytechnic), two instances of Evaluation of elearning for Best Practice, and one instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities. These courses, along with numerous informal workshops and professional networks, have helped to develop critical digital and network literacys as well as general awareness of the popular Internet amongst staff - particularly blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and RSS. This has occurred because Web 2.0 tools and strategies were used to facilitate the courses.
Currently there are a number of Polytechnic staff actively documenting their work and progress on individual weblogs. By subscribing to the RSS feeds from these blogs it is easy for colleagues and EDC to assess and keep up to date with experiments, new ideas and methods, issues and concerns, and of course the development of digital literacy and networked communication skills. We can also observe the progress of specific projects, and in some instances, educational courses being run through a weblog. With this level of access we can enter into discussions, offer timely advice as well as point to best practices when needed. By comparison, obtaining this level of access and overview through traditional communication channels (such as face to face meetings, email or formal reporting) is not only inefficient but typically lacks accurate and authentic insight or opportunities for wider consultation.
As an example of the level of access and insight that can be obtained through staff blogging, and the extent to which some project documentation is being done, the following list points to some of the more active bloggers in the Polytechnic. These blogs should be considered as personal documentations beyond the formal job descriptions of the authors and so, authentic accounts of their work so far.
- Bronwyn Hegarty - Education
- Kim Thomas - Horticulture
- Hillary Jenkins - Tourism
- Helen Lindsay - Learning support
- Sam Mann - Software Engineering
- David McQuillin - Massage Therapy
- Rachel Gillies - Visual Arts Photography
- Carolyn Mcintosh - Midwifery
- Sarah Stewart - Education
- Merrolee Penman - Occupational Therapy
- Graeme Dixon - Occupational Therapy
- William Lucas - Languages and learning support
- Matt Thompson - Building
- Jacquie Hayes - Community Learning Centre
- Wendy Ritson Jones - Librarian (on leave)
- Pam McKinlay - Visual Arts Historian
And there are a few who are using blogs to channel communication and information relating to courses.
- Staff development, announcments, course information, forums and links to online resources
- Tour Guiding - Soon to migrate to http://tourguiding.edublogs.org along with several other course blogs for the Applied Travel and Tourism Programme.
- Cookery - a video blog presenting videos recorded in class.
- Learning English - with regular posting of what is to be done in class.
- Participation in Occupation - Access to lecture slides, notes and supporting material.
- Peer Tutoring - Short course for people interested in becoming tutors.
- Designing for Flexible Learning Practice - announcements, updates and related links for a teacher training course.
- Facilitating Online - cross institutional course blog with announcements, updates and related links for a online facilitator training course.
Some staff see little value in documenting their work with weblogs, but are non-the-less interested in activities and initiatives to do with flexible and online learning, open education, and socially networked media. The Networked Learning email forum was set up in mid 2006 as a channel for informal learning and to support staff development through more widely used email communication. Formal learning opportunities are also provided through courses like Designing for Flexible Learning Practice and Facilitating Online already mentioned.
Vision for staff blogging
Primarily weblogs are being used as a simple device for developing digital literacy and critical awareness of online networking and communications. EDC encourage as many staff as possible to use a blog to document projects and professional development, with a view the regularity of writing online inevitably leads people to use hyperlink referencing, optimise and embed images and media, change blog style sheets, and add or create their own media. All this helps a person to develop digital literacy and improve communication skills, as well as critical awareness of what it means to have a professional presence within a network on the Internet.
In terms of networking through blogs, on a local scale it is observable in those who are blogging and using an RSS reader to track other blogs, that there is a gradual increase in awareness of what their colleagues are doing, what advances they are making, and what issues they are facing. Through this local networking, bonds are developing online that are helping to support informal learning and development. Over time it is hoped that this local awareness and communication will strengthen and develop into a more national and international network for each of the staff members. It is envisioned that some will come to see the value this approach has to maintaining a professional profile online, and encourage their colleagues to do the same.
While all this is helping to improve digital literacy and critical awareness, ultimately it is hoped that these skills will transfer into better services to potential and existing students. Extended thinking around this vision is expressed further in the following posts:
A change in the Organisation's Intellectual Property Policy and Practices
Toward the end of 2006 Flexible Learning Developments started to engage in content creation. Many staff did not have the Internet research skills to first search for existing content with copyrights that could enable reuse. Nor did many have experience in producing media other than text documents and slide presentations. EDC started building awareness on how to search for Creative Commons licensed content and other free content, as well as techniques for searching popular media sharing sites for reusable content. As awareness grew of the quantity and quality of existing and developing free content so did staff willingness to consider reusing existing content before developing entirely new content. It became apparent that the organisation's Intellectual Property Policy needed to be written in such a way as to enable the legitimate reuse of such open educational resources, as well as to encourage staff to participate and contribute to the pool of resources and help establish a stronger online presence for the Polytechnic.
By mid 2007 a new IP policy was agreed on that acknowledges staff and student's individual ownership over their IP, but encourages the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license as the preferred copyright statement on works published with the Polytechnic's name. Individual owners of IP who wish to publish with restrictions beyond attribution are required to notify the Polytechnic so that an appropriate restrictive statement can be added. In short, the All Rights Reserved default over content from the Polytechnic has been replaced by a Some Rights Reserved - Attribution default with an option for individuals to restrict. This is a simple inversion to what is common in most other educational institutions.
The new IP Policy is a strong mechanism for dispelling staff uncertainties about engaging with the Internet, and sends a clear message that it is appropriate to use publishing services like blogs, media sharing services, and to contribute to international wiki projects individually and/or in the name of the Polytechnic. Such activity is beneficial to the Polytechnic as it more widely distributes the name and the courses and services it offers, not to mention the expertise of its employees. EDC plays a role in helping to maintain quality.
Unfortunately an issue remains in the sampling and reuse of Commons based works with restrictions beyond Attribution - such as Non Commercial and Share Alike, or similar copyleft mechanisms like GPL that require derivatives to use the same or equal license. If a staff member samples and remixes a work with such a restriction, the license on the original work requires specific restrictions be included on the derivative work. This may not be desirable or even possible in some situations for the Polytechnic and so, as a matter of simplicity and to ensure maximum flexibility in the resources, staff are encouraged to preference sampling CC BY, Crown of Public Domain works where possible, and to avoid using resources that have restrictions like Share Alike, Non Commercial or even more restrictive.
Working with Wikieducator
In mid 2007, following the agreement for a new IP Policy, many of the Flexible Learning Development projects began using the Wikieducator platform to develop educational resources. To date there are at least 15 full time Otago Polytechnic lecturing staff and 5 part time designers regularly using the Wikieducator platform to develop their courses. This number is certain to increase as the teacher training schedules used by Otago Polytechnic include orientation and skills development in the use of Wikieducator as well as a number of other publishing platforms and media sharing services.
Benefits of using Wikieducator from the perspective of the Polytech include:
- Free content hosting
- Free and supported access to MediaWiki software
- Exposure, promotion and networking with other educational organisations
- Internationalisation and dialog with the Commonwealth of Learning
- Collaborative development opportunities and resource sharing
- Open access to learning resources
- Staff development of MediaWiki editing skills that are transferable to more popular MediaWiki based projects like Wikipedia, as well as the Polyech's own hosted MediaWiki.
Issues with using Wikieducator:
- Copyright issues - Wikieducator uses a site wide Share Alike copyright restriction without an option to mark a full project or individual resource with the Polytechnic's preferred CC BY license. This limitation in copyright potentially complicates the Polytechnic's developments on the platform, but work continues on a good will basis. To manage the risks in this, the Polytechnic's main page on Wikieducator links to a copy of the Polytech's IP policy which points out the use of CC BY that applies tp all pages that are category tagged Otago Polytechnic. This position has not become a concern to the Wikieducator hosting organisation but clarification on the issue is needed. This issue is argued in detail in the article Open educational resources and practices.
A Wikieducator development structure, page templates and staff development
The Polytech's EDC encourages people who develop educational resources on Wikieducator to use a structure which aims to make resources on the wiki as reusable and open for collaboration as possible. Inspired by Steven Parker and his ideas about activity sheets, as well as David Wiley's significant 2001 paper The Reusability Paradox, this development structure revolves around the creation of Learning Objective Pages. Learning Objective pages express a set of learning objectives related to a particular skill or knowledge attribute. 2 subpages attach to the Learning Objective pages: one being Library of Resources and the other being Learning Activities. As developers and support librarians encounter information and media relating to the learning objectives in a Learning Objective page, the link for those resources is added to the Library of Resources subpage. As learning activities are devised, they are added to the list on the Learning Activities subpage. Course Pages are developed separately from the Learning Objective Pages but are what bring a selection of Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages together. The Course Pages are free to be contextualised to what ever the expressive needs of the course may be. Because the Learning Objective Pages are simply linked to the Course Page and not subpages, they are effectively independent to the course, and so can be reused in other courses or for other purposes without the need for editing and renaming (for the most part anyway). For this reason it is important that the Learning Objective pages are worded in such a way so as to be as reusable in as many different contexts as possible, and to leave contextualisation to the Course Page or to the various Activities listed in the subpage to the Learning Objective. As Learning Objective Pages are picked up by different Courses then its list of Learning Activities will grow to reflect the reuse without affecting the reusability of the Learning Objective itself. A video explaining this structure is available on the Otago Polytechnic Category page on Wikieducator.
In November 2007 Brent Simpson developed the Otago Template Generator, which aims to simplify the process of creating Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages. Other work includes hacks for embedding media from popular media sharing services like Youtube and Slideshare, which is another outstanding issue with Wikieducator as we wait for the administrators to consider whether or not to support the functionality of embedded 3rd party media.
Vision for content developed on Wikieducator
Ironically, through developing curriculum and content on the Wikieducator platform, we are discovering more opportunities for local collaboration before realising benefits of international collaboration. Because of the open nature of the content, some of our teaching staff are discovering each other's work. Contrasted to that are the teachers working on a closed Learning Management System with a working environment that is isolated from other projects, and so staff in these environments are unaware of similar content being developed elsewhere on the platform, or are developing in such a way that makes it very difficult to collaborate and reuse in other areas.
Also because of its open and accessible nature, development on the Wikieducator must ensure quality controls such as copyright. The Wikieducator project requires that all content be cleared of restrictive copyrights and so has rendered the works very flexible and reusable. Again, contrast to that the closed development environment of the LMS and we find that there is very little quality control on copyright, and that a large amount of very restricted content is being used, which ultimately limits the flexibility and reusability of the resources being developed. In this sense, development on the Wikieducator is arguably more sustainable and is achieving more with the investment.
At the moment, developments on the Wikieducator are largely limited to basic text and images. The Commonwealth of Learning is investing in the development of functional enhancements to the Wikieducator that will gradually see more engaging formats being developed on the platform. If the Commonwealth of Learning manage to encourage and coordinate investments from other participatinginstitutions such as teh Polytechnic, we will likely see rapid and well funded development that will build on the free text and image content that is currently being built. Such development would include software to enhance the Wiki environment as well as the creation of multi media educational resources. The content on the Wiki is flexible and reusable enough to be used in a wide variety of contexts such as in an LMS, a face to face class, course blogs, email forums, mobile phones and PDAs, and other portable media such as print, CDs and cassettes. These types of further developments are made possible by the nonrestrictive copyrights, the consolidation of human and IP resources and the facilitation efforts of teh Commonwealth of Learning.
Risks and foreseeable issues
Weblog based communication is still foreign and new to the majority of staff at the Polytechnic, and many struggle to see the value to them personally and professionally, or how they may begin to develop strategies to manage the time it takes to reading and/or writing weblogs. It would be reasonable to accept that the majority of staff will not want to keep a weblog or will not actively monitor the blogging efforts of their colleagues. While there are demonstrated benefits to those that do, a communication disconnect may emerge between those that do and those that do not which could prove counter productive to the organisation as a whole. While it is possible to compare this development to that of the uptake of email some 10 years ago, weblogging (both reading and writing) could just as easily not be following the same path as email. The Polytechnic will need to continue thinking about and developing communication strategies that are effective and useful to all staff, and carefully consider ways to scale the benefits of blog reading and writing so as to avoid any disconnection. Suggestions aimed at bridging different communication channels and reaching a wider range of readers include:
- public press releases on a blog as well as their normal email and static webpage broadcasts.
- staff updates on a blog as well as the normal staff wide email broadcast.
- meeting minutes on a blog (or a wiki) as well as in archived text documents.
- service department updates on a blog as well as the PDF attachments broadcast through email.
There are methods with which these additional communication channels can be utilised without double handling the message.
At present the EDC's leadership in the use of Weblogs, popular media and Wikieducator is occurring without close and regular consultation with the Polytech's IT support unit, the web publishing unit, the marketing unit, or the human resources unit. While this enables rapid development, it of course posses a significant risk to all those units should some aspect prove counter productive to the brief of one of those units. The solution relates in part to the need for a better communication strategy, and one that includes participation by all who are affected. How to achieve this breadth of dialogue is an important issue that needs research and consideration, but at present EDC makes an effort to attend and update as many cross unit meetings and forums as practical.
Working to develop digital literacys and online networking skills with teachers instead of or before students may be less productive than working with students directly. This is an interesting proposition made by Russell Butson of the Higher Education Department of the Otago University working in similar areas to the EDC. It is possible that a large proportion of the teaching staff will feel that they have more to lose by participating in this effort. It may therefore be productive to work with students who arguably have more to gain in developing digital literacy and online networking skills given the relative early stages in their career paths. By working directly with students it may help to benefit their learning objectives and career aspirations sooner, while helping teachers to observe more objectively the benefits and pitfalls to these new literacys and communication skills. Discussions continue with Russell Butson regarding his research into this approach to Educational Development.
Otago Polytechnic has taken rapid and significant steps in the direction of open educational resources and practices. In the space of less than 2 years it has positioned itself as a leader in New Zealand and Australia by being the first to develop and adopt an intellectual policy that encourages the use of Creative Commons licensing, and is proactively encouraging staff to experiment with and use popular publishing services in their professional work and learning. So far the Polytechnic has chosen not to duplicate the features on these popular media services 'in house' and is seeking the maximise the benefits of using external services. In so doing, the Polytechnic is developing a strong and authentic online presence that is distributed widely. In so doing staff are develop important literacys, transferable skills, and critical awareness of online communications that are relevant to life outside the Polytechnic, and to the Otago Community more generally. The speed at which this change has taken effect in the Polytechnic has left some service areas unprepared, and is having both positive and negative effects on internal communication. So far the benefits are outweighing the disadvantages, and through continued staff development activities we expect that these disadvantages will diminish.