Communicate OER

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This project is underway, now known as Communicate OER. Please join us on Wikipedia! This page is preserved as a record of the planning for the project.
This page contains an early proposal for this project.
As of October 2012, w:en:WP:Communicate_OER Communicate OER is underway;
its project page on Wikipedia is the most up-to-date information resource about it.
The proposal below is preserved as a historical record, and as a possible model for those pursuing similar projects in the future.

The Open Education movement[1] has a compelling history, but that history is largely opaque to interested parties outside the movement.

The advocates and practitioners of Open Education have a strong ethic of collaboration. Numerous individuals and organizations routinely support one another's work, eliminate redundancies, and share knowledge within the Open Education community.

The community has had less success, though, at the meta level—that is, in collaborating to communicate a comprehensive, coherent, up-to-date, and engaging story to the wider world. There are efforts in that direction, but many projects come and go, leaving behind a patchwork of web sites, blogs, and other resources that can be difficult to navigate. Resources like Wikipedia could be leveraged to tell a coherent, high-level story; but at present, Wikipedia content about Open Education reflects the rest of the web's disjointedness, with articles that are sub-optimal in various ways: half-finished, out of date, focused on small details while ignoring the bigger picture, etc.

This document proposes a project that would bring together existing Open Education practitioners and advocates, and guide them in a process of taking ownership of the global narrative of Open Education. The outputs will be threefold:

  1. A canonical and widely published history and account of Open Education (emphasizing Wikipedia as a platform);
  2. A robust network of Open Education advocates and practitioners capable of documenting its collective successes;
  3. A collection of online resources that would support the ongoing composition and updating of the historical account.


The concept of openness has long drawn the interest of those wishing to improve education. Removing procedural barriers is an important way to eliminate redundancies, improve efficiency, and create opportunities where none previously existed. With the Open University model, the term Open Education meant the elimination of barriers of time and space in a pre-Internet world. More recently, the peer production communities that have emerged from a highly interactive Internet have attracted attention to the barriers presented by intellectual property law and academic processes.

In 2007, a group issued the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, defining Open Education as including projects that:

There are many perspectives on how terms like Open Education are best defined, and how they interrelate; and ideas and objectives in this space are continually evolving. Open Education comprises a complex collection of concepts, new and old, and simultaneously transformative and transforming. As such, it is unsurprising that its story would be difficult to articulate, and would remain largely untold even after the focused efforts of the last decade.

But there are costs to not telling the story.

Consider an under served US high school student who learns the coding language Ruby through Peer 2 Peer University. Fresh from that initial success of overcoming boundaries of poverty and geography to learn practical coding skills, she seeks to extend her understanding of Open Educational Resources through a Google to Wikipedia search. How is the concept of OER explained? Does she understand the possibilities other OER projects might offer?

Consider a university administrator who is is asked to consider developing a new program around OER. She seeks out information on OER, and lands on Wikipedia. What does she find?

Consider a teacher who has assigned publishing YouTube videos and using the site's discussion and linking features. A colleague is interested, and asks if he knows of other projects to investigate. Neither has ever heard "OEP" as a term. Where does the discussion go?

Consider a software designer who builds a new platform for students and teachers. If the designer is able to learn about OER and OEP early on, the platform might provide a useful link among existing repositories, or provide similarly useful functionality. If the designer is confused about OER and OEP due to a lack of available, coherent documentation, what will be the cost of retrofitting the software to leverage missed opportunities?

The Hewlett Foundation has already recognized the importance of projects which improve OER infrastructure, notably in its March 2010 strategic plan (cf. [The William and Flora Hewlett Found: Education Strategic Plan]). As a project which seeks to present a mature vision of the OER concept on Wikipedia, document OER accomplishments, increase coherence and awareness among OER projects, and assist in developing communities of practice around publicizing the benefits of OER, this Open Education Collaborative Documentation Project acts on the Hewlett Foundation OER Objectives. Specifically:

  • This project "supports the expansion of OER principles by building interconnected networks." COLT, and this project, are specifically examples of "network organizations that spread and amplify OER principles to as many teachers and learners as possible [by] building communities of practice."
  • Improved documentation and Wikipedia identity provides "coherence and improves efficiency in the field." As an initiative endorsed by OERF, this project supports and enacts the principles of openness even as it carries out its work of building coherence among the disparate projects in the OER field.
  • The strategic plan calls for the Foundation to "ensure that OER is well represented in the next generation of learning platforms being built." This documentation project, by improving the presence of individual OER projects on Wikipedia, and actively involving the principals of the projects in establishing their Wikipedia presence, will help to ensure global representation of the projects' value for global stakeholders, now and in the future.

The Collaborative Documentation project thus seeks to improve the substantial investment of the Hewlett Foundation and many others by improving upon the coherence and awareness of OER for learners, educators, policy makers, and the public.

Problem statement

Range in quality and focus of Open Education sites
Good content, and current
Good content, but static/out of date
Good content, narrow focus, not necessarily easy to find by those who stand to benefit
Local sites, may have redundancy
  • Kansas DOE page States that OER are "in public domain" and not copyrighted
Need to categorize

Although Open Education projects are strongly aligned, there are two intertwined problems:

  • Mutual awareness and collaborative action across projects could be greatly improved. There is not a thriving community of practice in the broader world of open education.
  • The understanding and adoption of Open Education in the broader education world is lacking. The resources exist, but even the good ones go unused. Many educators lack the practical understanding of OER/OEP/OA that would enable them to extract value.

Community of practice

Although most Open Education projects involve communities of practice at the micro level, there is no prominent, effective community of practice at the macro level.

The value of broad engagement toward shared strategic goals is well established, and is manifested in organizations as diverse as trade associations, academic associations, and advocacy and lobbying groups. In recent years, one example stands out as a precedent for this project: in February 2011, the President of the Association for Psychological Science called upon the association's members to improve Wikipedia content.[2] The resulting Wikipedia Initiative has academics of many profiles working in concert to ensure that the topic is represented "as fully and accurately as possible" on Wikipedia, promoting "the free teaching of psychology worldwide."[3]

By taking on a similar project, practitioners and advocates of Open Education can hope not only to improve the availability of resources about their shared passion, but to achieve a distinct success by working together. By working together with colleagues around the world, members of the Open Education community will develop a stronger sense of the power of collective action to advance their shared goals. A central goal of this project is to activate an already productive community, and help it grow into a more cohesive and influential body in years to come.

Wikipedia content

Page views of Open educational resources article on English Wikipedia over time

With more than 450 million unique visitors per month, Wikipedia consistently ranks as the most widely-read original content site, in many languages. There is no single information resource in existence with the broad reach and deep original content of Wikipedia. For OER, an education concept that is novel, complex, and capable of changing the lives of millions across the globe, Wikipedia offers one of the most widely-read introductory resources in existence. No other one page will shape the initial understanding of more potential users. Inaccurate or poorly presented information on Wikipedia costs OER projects untold numbers of users on an hourly basis; but accurate, thorough, and up-to-date information can open a variety of doors. Consider some of the current OER content on Wikipedia:

  • Open educational resources article carries the second-lowest peer reviewed quality rating ("start class"). It has a great deal of information, but it is lacking in completeness, emphasis, and clarity of presentation. There appear to be several discrete narratives running through the article. Its readership is high, and growing year-to-year (see chart, right).
  • Open education article is a four sentence "stub." There may be hope for an improved article, as this is the subject of a Peer-to-Peer University course, and the talk page has contributions from experts in the field.
  • The recently-launched WikiProject Open Access has evaluated a number of Wikipedia articles relating to open access. None of the articles identified has been brought through Wikipedia's formal peer review processes ("Featured" or "Good" status), and very few are at the highest informal level ("B class").


For the reasons above, the goals of the OER documentation project of COLT will be to:

  • Improve the overall coverage of Open Education in places where interested parties are already looking for information. The primary publishing outlet will be Wikipedia, in English and possibly other targeted languages;[4] where Wikipedia is not the appropriate vehicle, the project will identify the best platforms for publishing related content.
  • Build a broadly linked community of practice and professional network among Open Education advocates and practitioners. Strengthen the mutual awareness, sense of shared purpose, and synergies among existing Open Education projects, and create networks and resources within Wikipedia to support the creation of high-quality content related to Open Education.

Phase 1 (3 months)

March 1 through May 31, 2012

Establish a Wikipedian in Residence for Open Education at the Hewlett Foundation.

Measure OER content on Wikipedia to create baseline understanding.

Meet with leaders of OER projects through at least two face to face events, and virtual events, to design "GLAM camp" style workshops (to be conducted in Phase 2) for individual OER projects, orienting project participants toward their presence on Wikipedia.

Meet with leaders of all major Open Education projects worldwide to gather information and promote the Phase 2 workshops. Develop a clear and up-to-date understanding of their goals, their methods, and the current obstacles they perceive. This information-gathering component will leverage Open Education Week and the Hewlett Foundation's OER grantees meeting. Develop a baseline for later evaluation, and a detailed plan for Phase 2. The Phase 2 design should reflect a strong understanding of stakeholders' current needs and objectives in their own Open Education projects, and provide clear paths to meeting these objectives as well as this project's own objectives; this will establish a foundation for strong participation and collaboration during Phase 2.


A baseline for measurement, including:

  1. A report on the current status of Open Education coverage on Wikipedia, identifying the highest-priority Wikipedia content, and any other high-priority sites for disseminating high-level information about the movement. The following articles will be on the list. The size of the list will be determined in Phase 1 (i.e., whether it is preferable to direct resources toward five high-impact articles, versus putting a smaller amount of energy into 50 articles, during Phase 2. Additional articles might include, for instance, those on specific Open Education projects like Connexions, Merlot, etc.; or OER articles by academic field.)
    • open education (current status: stub class)
    • OER (current status: start class)
    • OA (current status: C class)
    • OEP (current status: nonexistent)
  2. A report, based on interviews with Open Education advocates and practitioners, on their level of comfort with contributing to Wikipedia in the Open Education domain, and with engaging colleagues for support in related tasks. This report should include a list of the most important Open Education projects to engage during the Phase 2 workshops.
  3. A report on existing WikiProjects and other online communications resources for OER advocates and practitioners.

The central Phase 1 deliverable would be a detailed project plan for Phase 2. A presentation of the project at the June 2012 OER Congress event in Paris would kick of the project.

Phase 2 (18–24 months)

Convene leaders and participants in various Open Education projects, that help these projects (a) achieve their own goals with mutual support; and (b) compose Wikipedia articles and related content that forms a core narrative about Open Education.

A number of tools can be brought to bear. The core would consist of:

  1. Traditional workshops of at least one day in locations around the world that are convenient to participants in various open education projects.
  2. Online workshops following a similar format, but designed for participation by individuals unable to travel to in-person workshops, and also permitting focus on more specific topics.
  3. Creation and/or engagement with existing enduring online collaboration spaces (WikiProjects) to coordinate and document efforts, and to continually invite participation from unanticipated allies.

In addition, we will begin the work of measuring the success of each of these activities, in preparation for Phase 3.

Traditional workshops

Open education (and open content projects generally) has grown, in part, out of the open source software movement. In addition to its model of online collaboration, the open source software community has refined the concept of a "hackathon" or "code sprint," in which people get together in person to accelerate and enhance the collaborative process. This model has been adapted in the open content world, to good effect. A few examples are:

  • CiviCRM book sprints: CiviCRM, an open source software project, has prioritized high quality documentation for end users. Its leaders have organized several "book sprint" events, in which writers have assembled for several days to improve and update their user manual.
  • Cape Town Meeting The Cape Town Meeting, a seminal event in the Open Education movement, leveraged the knowledge of its participants to produce the Open Education Declaration.
  • See the Project team section for some additional events designed and executed by this proposal's authors.

Online workshops

In-person workshops have tremendous value in building a sense of shared purpose. But they also have drawbacks: they are costly to execute, and time-consuming for organizers and participants alike. For this reason, we propose to include a series of online workshops, using a variety of collaboration tools (e.g. wiki pages, online text and voice chat, Webinar software, collaborative document tools), that will:

  • attract the engagement of high-profile individuals who may not have the time to participate in person;
  • attract the engagement of people who live far from any of the workshop locations;
  • convene groups around topic areas (identified as priorities during Phase 1) that have no geographic concentration; and
  • pilot a model for inexpensive and effective Wikipedia production events conducted virtually.

In addition, it may be desirable to augment some or all of the offline workshops with opportunities for remote participants to engage.

Enduring online collaboration spaces

Collaboration in broad topic areas on Wikipedia is traditionally managed in a "WikiProject," which consists of a set of pages designed as a networking and project-organizing resource for Wikipedia contributors. As has been demonstrated with recent efforts like the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, efforts to engage purposefully with Wikipedia can make effective use of the WikiProject model. This model helps offline groups to work in the kind of open, transparent way demanded on Wikipedia, and provides opportunities for other interested Wikipedians to join in collaborative efforts.

A number of WikiProjects relating to education are listed here: w:en:Wikipedia:WikiProject_Council/Directory/History_and_society#Education

WikiProject Education has existed for some time. Its discussion page is somewhat active, but not dynamic. There is an extensive list of participants that may serve as a useful source for contacts.

WikiProject Open Access was recently launched.

Wikipedia dashboard

In the interests of accurately and thoroughly measuring the success of this project, it will be essential to gather statistics reflecting (a) the depth and quality of Wikipedia coverage; and (b) the size and robustness of the community developed in the process. During Phase 2 we will develop a software product, under a free license, that generates useful reports from existing web-based resources on Wikipedia.[5]

Phase 3 (2 months)

In Phase 3, we will report on the accomplishments of Phase 2, measuring success against the baseline established in Phase 1. This will consist of a report to the funder, as well as a less formal report to a broader, more general audience.

  1. Wikipedia articles identified as high-priority during Phase 1 will be evaluated for improvement.
  2. Open Education advocates interviewed should have a high level of familiarity with a core set of projects and topics within the Open Education field (as identified in Phase 1), and should have a strong network of professional contacts who are familiar with Open Education and Wikipedia.
  3. Several WikiProjects in the education field, identified as high-priority during Phase 1, should have clean, comprehensible, useful front pages, and active discussions on their talk pages. The discussions should include people who were not specifically recruited for this project's workshops. If Phase 1 called for the establishment of a new WikiProject, it should meet these standards as well.

The project is expected to produce additional outputs. These may include educational resources for one or more graduate level courses on Open Education; a book published by an academic press; and journal articles for publication. The extent of such outputs will be highly dependent on the participants engaged during Phases 1 and 2.

Project team

Project lead Pete Forsyth (full bio) is a longtime Wikipedian, both as a content creator and editor and as an active leader in its community. In that context, he has extensive experience as a founder and leader of WikiProjects; he has planned and executed several 1–3 day production-focused workshops; and he has conducted Wikipedia trainings via webinar.

Forsyth has extensive experience guiding the development of online content, including:

Dr. Robert E. Cummings (full bio) has been using Wikipedia as a teaching tool since 2004. He currently serves as Director of the Center for Writing and Rhetoric and Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi. In 2006 he earned the PhD in English from the University of Georgia, with a focus on the connections between rhetoric, composition, and digital technology. In 2011 his book Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia (Vanderbilt UP: 2009), won the thirtieth annual MLA Mina Shaughnessy Prize for outstanding scholarly work with application to the teaching of English. He has also co-edited Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom with Matt Barton, (U of Michigan P digitalculturebooks: 2008). His current research continues to focus on how network knowledge is reshaping higher education and redefining the cultural value of rhetoric. He served as an Advisor to the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, a pilot project of the Wikimedia Foundation which explored the educational benefits of guiding higher education students in Wikipedia writing.

Dr. Paul Quick is the Coordinator of Faculty and TA Development at University of Georgia. Paul earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Georgia in 2005. Quick won the University of Georgia's Outstanding Teaching Award in 2000, the Excellence In Teaching Award in 2001, and the K. Patricia Cross Award from American Association for Higher Education in 2002—one of five awarded nationally. As a winner of the International McKeachie Teaching Award, he has presented work on improving teaching and learning in higher education in Sweden, in addition to presenting research on the use of <emma>™ in Germany. Paul's recent work has included facilitating projects with centers for teaching and learning in Chile.

Dr. Alexis Hart is an Associate Professor at Virginia Military Institute. She is a founding member of the <emma>™ project, an open source suite of applications designed to support writing and revision processes, document exchange for peer review, and the creation of electronic writing portfolios that was developed at the University of Georgia and is now used at a range of colleges and universities across the United States. Hart is also a member of the editorial board for Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, "a book series containing peer-reviewed collections of essays--all composed by teachers for students--with each volume freely available for download under a Creative Commons license," which "aims to build a library of quality open textbooks for the writing classroom as an alternative to costly textbooks." In addition, Hart serves as the Interviews Co-Editor for Kairos, "a refereed open-access online journal exploring the intersections of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy."

We have an extensive network of Wikipedians, consultants, and educators with complementary skills in event planning and facilitation, wiki instruction, and open education. As the project plan for Phase 2 develops, we will seek commitments from a number of colleagues to join us as event organizers and facilitators.

Related efforts


  1. The term "Open Education" has at least two distinct, but not wholly unrelated, meanings: (1) open access to education, as by correspondence courses through the Open Universities, and (2) the more recent meaning deriving from "Open Educational Resources" and related terms, as defined at the Cape Town Meeting. This proposal is generally about the latter, but not strictly; it will be up to the education experts participating in the project to clearly define the domain of the project.
  4. At least 16 language editions of Wikipedia have articles on OER.
  5. Many tools already exist, and will serve as a foundation for this dashboard.

The contents of this page are dual licensed under CC-BY and CC-BY-SA; the principal authors are Pete Forsyth and Dr. Robert Cummings.