Open educational resources and practices
In this article the author looks at what constitutes an open educational resource and considers the issues and benefits to an educational institution. An institution which is moving to participate in open educational resource development and adopt more open educational practices. There is a description of the initial steps being made by the Educational Development Centre at Otago Polytechnic - a tertiary education and vocational training institution in Southern New Zealand.
In a recent First Monday paper titled The Genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa, Keats and Schmidt described an educational system that benefits from international and cross cultural relationships and the adoption of open educational resources (OER) and practices to improve operational effectiveness and the quality of teaching and learning services. At the same time Networks, Connections and Community: Learning with Social Software a report from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework by Val Evans Consultants looked at current and future uses of socially networked software in educational settings, specifically pointing out the need for open educational resources, diverse professional networks and embedded new practices, to realise the potential for a new form of socially constructed learning. Such papers and reports describe a steadily increasing trend in the education sector that is by and large a response to the significant successes of social-justice driven innovations such as the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Ourmedia and the Internet Archiveinitiatives; the vastly popular market driven self publishing platforms such as blogs, audio, video and photo sharing services - otherwise known as social media or Web2.0; and the notable increase in Open Courseware and Open Educational Resource initiatives coming out of Educational Institutions. However - while the Internet inherently lends itself to openness, and to a large degree has brought about the need for more open practices in sectors that rely on information and communications technologies - copyright laws, incomplete or incompatible intellectual property policies, cultural sensitivities, commercial operations, and general ignorance are all issues that need to be overcome if educational institutions and the OER platforms are to realise the mutual benefits of open educational practices and resources. This article will focus on specific issues relevent to a New Zealand vocational training and education institution, Otago Polytechnic and its initial attempts to develop open educational resources and practices that utilise socially networked information and communication techniques, with an eye towards an Education 3.0 future.
Open Courseware and Open Educational Resources
In 2002 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began a project called MIT OpenCourseWare, with the aim being to gradually publish all educational resources and curricula with copyrights that ... invite educators around the world to draw upon the materials for their own curricula, and we encourage all learners to use the materials for self-study.
- We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore, the quality of life worldwide. Charles M. Vest, President, MIT. October 2002
And so began the wider use of the term Open Courseware. MIT's hope did eventuate with many other educational organisations announcing Open Courseware projects. In July 2005 David Wiley developed the OpenCourseware Finder - a search engine focused specifically on finding open courseware from a number of educational institutions, and later that year the establishment of the Open Courseware Consortium - also based in Massachusetts, currently has over 100 educational organisations from around the world publishing open courseware.
Open Educational Resources (OER), according to the Wikipedia article, is a term first adopted at UNESCO's 2002 Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries. The Wikipedia entry defines open educational resources as educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use with copy rights to re-mix, make improvements and to redistribute the resources. Wikipedia May 2007
The hugely successful Wikipedia - currently ranking in the world's top 10 websites and easily the world's largest open educational resource, had by the time of MIT and UNESCO's announcements been operating for over 12 months and had grown in that time from an initial 8,000 articles in January 2001 to 88291 articles in the English version by October 2002. Today it has 251 language editions with the English version alone containing 1,778,031 articles!
In 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation was announced as an umbrella organisation that would encompasse Wikpedia and the other open and collaborative authoring initiatives; Wikiquote, Wikibooks (including Wikijunior), Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, and Meta-Wiki. If these other wiki projects grow at anything like the rate at which Wikipedia is growing, the Wikimedia Foundation will easily house the world's largest open educational resources.
CopyrightEloquence 2005. How does a user who is affected by these restrictions reconcile this with the grander statements made by the various project leaders? How can other institutions that are partly commercial and partly restricted in their own uses of resources utilise or participate in open educational resource projects that come with such restrictions?
In an attempt to clarify copyright confusion around open educational resources, and to assist open educational projects make better choices in copyright licenses, the Free Cultural Works Definition may be useful:
- This document (within a wiki) defines "Free Cultural Works" as works or expressions which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose. It also describes certain permissible restrictions that respect or protect these essential freedoms. The definition distinguishes between free works, and free licenses which can be used to legally protect the status of a free work. The definition itself is not a license; it is a tool to determine whether a work or license should be considered "free."
Considering the purpose of an open educational resource, it should be enough to say that the license used is one in which attribution to original authors is all that is required in its reuse. This is a practice that should be familiar and comfortable to educational institutions, and it is a license that maintains maximum re-usability and flexibility in an original resource. It makes little sense to apply any further restrictions such as Non Commercial, Share Alike or even FDL to an open educational resource that is intended to be available for remix, modification and redistribution in as wider educational context as possible. Furthermore, for the purposes of this article and to generate interest and discussion, a superficial analysis of statistics in the use of Creative Commons licenses - particularly comparing the growth in use of the Attribution license compared to the Share Alike license shows an increase in the number of Attribution only resources comparable to Share Alike. This might suggest strong motivating factors in the use of free licensing such as Attribution that should be looked at more closely. Perhaps the belief in a cultural commons is growing regardless of detailed copyleft legal mechanisms, and/or perhaps attribution is a stronger currency in the exchange of intellectual property than the various legal mechanisms designed to govern it. It is a research project in its own right, but for this article it is enough to suggest that copyleft legal mechanisms may not be the strongest element in the growth to free cultural works, particularly open educational resources.
Re-usability and interoperability
From 2001 - 2004 there probably wasn't an eLearning Unit on the planet that had not discussed re-usable learning object (LO) theory. Some people became very caught up in the ill-defined and poorly understood "holy grail" for eLearning, and invested large amounts of time and money developing content that conformed to a range of re-usable object standards in their Learning object projects. The energy and commitment behind learning object development has wained considerably in recent years, to a point to which it is a rarely talked about and generally a rarely considered area in today's eLearning Units. The rise in educational use of popular content repositories like Wikipedia and YouTube, and the vastly improved understanding of blogs, wikis and the Internet generally, has lead many to question the relevance and integrity of the concept of learning objects Wiley 2001, Polsani 2003, Downes 2005, Seimens 2004, Farmer 2004, Jache et al 2005. Still, it is worth noting the functional requirements of a learning object if only to see why its relevance is questionable:
- Accessibility: the LO should be tagged with metadata so that it can be stored and referenced in a database.
- Re-usability: once created, a LO should function in different instructional contexts.
- Interoperability: the LO should be independent of both the delivery media and knowledge management systems
Remarkably similar to the requirements of an Open Educational Resource wouldn't you say? Or at the very least, an open educational resource could be said to meet all these functional requirements and more. For an open educational resource:
- Accessibility is ensured by the prospect of open publishing. A resource that is published openly to the Internet can be considered accessible with its metadata evolving and updating according to its use. On the other hand, a resource that is delivered over the Internet, only accessible to those with a user name and password, and with meta data that is entered once and for various resourcing reasons, not maintained since, eventually becomes inaccessible.
- Re-usability of an open educational resource is firstly ensured by a copyright license that uses limited if any restrictions, and secondly by its format. An educational resource with all copy rights reserved, and whose publisher long since fell out of business, and whose author contact details long ago moved on, is rendered a difficult to non re-usable resource. A resource with a Creative Commons Attribution license on the other hand will always remain a re-usable resource.
- Interoperability is one functional requirement that also affects re-usability, but is one in which neither the learning object nor the open educational resource developments have been satisfied. Learning object development tends to focus on standards that ensure a suite of resources will work in more than one learning management system, but may ignore issues for future interoperability when it comes to open standard formats of individual resources within the suite, and almost never considers an environment outside a learning management system. Open educational resource development on the other hand tends to focus on the use of free and open standard formats and forsakes operability with popular software. An example that covers both these examples might be the situation where learning object development, while being reasonably interoperable with multiple learning management systems may use audio files that can only be played on Macintosh's iPod or iTunes. While open educational resource development on the other hand may have ensured that their resource is open, for example, they choose to use OGG Vorbis audio formats. This is done because they are the recognised free and open standard formats for audio, however, OGG Vorbis cannot easily be played on popular audio players like iPod or common digital audio players. While the open educational resource is in a format that can be played through legal software additions to the device, the Macintosh format choice of the learning object developers renders their resource operable only on Macintosh players, perhaps under the mistaken belief that it is or will be "industry standard". In other words they rely on Macintosh's abilities to corner and hold the digital audio market and force their format to become standard. For educational requirements, it makes better long term sense to use free and open standard formats that can be made operable and remain reasonably free of market forces for sound long term re-usability, not to mention archival purposes.
Socially networked media
The popularity and emergent usefulness that socially networked media, web2 or social web has to learning should not come as any surprise. Contemporary learning theories and pedagogical practices have been influenced by social constructivism, and the relevance that social media has to that thinking should be becoming increasingly obvious as more and more educators gain practical experience and critical awareness of learning through social media. Ivan Illich wrote of learning webs and envisioned a society empowered through the use of audio cassette tapes and the postal service. Illich could barely have imagined what is the case today and should be happy to see his ideas proving true. Illich would probably have remained justifiably critical however, as today's social media is only accessible in wealthy societies and little has been achieved to slow the widening gap in the now-termed digital divide. But the successes of social media in the wealthy societies should be see for the success in Illich's vision for learning webs. While the formats and delivery mechanisms may be different, the concept remains essentially the same - give many people the ability to tell their own stories and ask their own questions to many other people, and socially constructed learning opportunities will emerge.
For many, the almost daily practice of writing and answering emails, conversing through chat rooms and forums, publishing and watching videos and audio, and collaboratively editing documents and media is simultaneously being stored and archived publicly for others to access, learn from and connect with. Informational and personal connections are being made through this social media and all of it creates an impressive opportunity for learning. But as yet educational institutions struggle to define themselves within this information and communication landscape and appear content with a wait and see stance.
Meanwhile new educational institutions may be developing. The Wikimedia Foundation added Wikiversity to complement its suite of reference resources and while it rapidly develops its technology, content and connections - with an average edit interval of 20 minutes Recent Changes May 2007, the user group discusses its relationship to educational institutions and credentialism Wikiversity list archive May 2007. The Commonwealth of Learning has established a similar project called Wikieducator that is proactively drawing in professionals and consultants to help with its positioning and is growing at a similar rate to Wikiversity.
It could be that Illich's vision is already happening albeit through the use of sophisticated and still exclusive technology. With people empowered in the ability to connect and communicate with many others, perhaps new pathways to formally recognised learning will emerge from this social media and directly challenge those who will wait and see.
The exciting area to be involved with in educational development is Web2.0. Some people think that like learning objects, Web2.0 is another passing fad that will have little relevance in years to come. But unlike learning objects, Web2.0 is what it is because of the sheer numbers of people participating, and if it does come to pass it won't be because of its difficulty to understand or implement, it will be because technology and user abilities develop further. Already this move has been suggested with the term Web3D! where participation in 3D Virtual worlds is growing considerably - but that's another article..
Keats and Schmit explain Web2.0 reasonably succinctly:
- Over the past three-four years, a set of technologies and social phenomena have arisen on the Internet that are collectively referred to as Web 2.0 (Web two point oh) indicating that the World Wide Web has seen a set of important changes since its inception (version 1.0) which have turned it from an access technology into a participation technology.
Participation is the key. As the Rise of Participation Culture puts it:
- This shift in internet use from passive to active is at the heart of their digital behavior and can be summed up in one word: participation. The mainstreaming of this participation culture is perfectly characterized by the Pew Internet and American Life Project as "Web is the New Normal."
But what is it? Technically speaking it is the use of blogs; wikis; video, photo and audio sharing sites; forums, chats and even email to develop what more interestingly becomes socially networked media.
Michael Hotrum in Breaking the LMS wall:
- All in all it was just a brick in the wall. All in all it was all just bricks in the wall. (Pink Floyd, November 30, 1979)
- The Internet is independent of device (hardware or platform), distance, and time, and is well-suited for open, flexible, and distributed learning. Yet traditional online, distributed learning methods are anything but flexible, open, or dynamic. What went wrong? Parkin (2004a, b) believes that we failed to appreciate that the Internet is a vehicle for connecting people with each other. We implemented LMS methods that imposed bureaucratic control, diminished learner empowerment, and delivered static information. “In a world hurtling toward distributed internetworking, e-learning was still based on a library-like central-repository concept.” Parkin suggests it is time to explore the true promise of e-learning, and to rework our ideas about how learning should be designed, delivered, and received. It is time to stop letting the LMS vendors tell us how to design learning. It is time to stop the tail from wagging the dog.
Others are seeing the link between participatory culture and some of the core objectives for education. People like Renee Fountain have prepared resources that describe wiki pedagogy, or Peter Rawsthorne looking for ways to apply learner generated curriculum and content. With participatory culture arguably being the norm for a generation of people accustomed to socially networked media and online communication, then so called learner generated content will naturally develop. And this places educational institutions in a potentially hazardous predicament. What are the implications for an institution or a course within an institution when a large number of its students start blogging all that happens to them there? How can an institution and teacher respond if and when they are exposed to both encouraging and discouraging information about their services and practices.
With open participation of course. We need teachers skilled and experienced with web2.0 technologies and communication methods so that they can participate at this level and offer balance to information that at present only comes from a student perspective. We need to engage in open educational resource development and participate in open socially networked media and communication platforms. the alternative would be to engage in very measured and controled ways, such as through a marketing department, or to not engage at all.
Open educational practices
And so the short of it is this: educational organisations should develop capacity among staff and students to access, create or modify and redistribute open educational resources, and to participate in socially networking such media. Developing skills and practices along these lines will improve the efficiency and quality of the teaching and learning.
For example, here is a very typical situation experienced in many educational institutions:
- 2 years ago a teacher created a slide presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint using a standard and over used Microsoft template, and went a little over board with animation features and sound effects.
- The images used on the slides have been sampled from Google image search results and do not adequately reference the image source, nor is there any record of copyright permission to use these images.
- The slide presentation file is unnecessarily large and is proving difficult to use in any online learning context.
- The presentation is a few years old and has not been updated. It was created by a teacher who no longer works at the organisation, and is used by new teachers who are still adjusting to the teaching of the topic.
Here is a solution:
- The educational development unit starts to run workshops in open source software and open standard formats. Teachers learn how to use Open Office, experience compatibility issues with old PowerPoints and begin to appreciate the need develop presentations that are less reliant on one particular software. Presentation edit files are saved in open standard formats and published to PDF.
- Workshops in copyright are also run and teachers learn where to source images and other open educational resources. The presentation file now has images that permit copying and appropriate attribution for the images is made in the presentation file.
- A range of strategies are shared for reducing presentation file sizes and developing effective uses of presentation slides in online learning contexts. Some teachers notice that the PDF process reduces the file and learn how to attach that file to email or in a blog. Others discover Internet publishing sites like http://slideshare.net and http://wordpress.com that offer services that take an original file, process it for efficient online viewing, publish it and manage it within social networking features.
- Other teachers and experts from around the world discover the published presentation and offer a range of feedback. Some users on Slideshare save the presentation to their favourites along with a number of other presentations that are relevant and useful. Others offer comments that point to spelling errors and more up to date information to use. Others request permission to reuse it and suggest the use of a Creative Commons license. In short, by publishing the presentation the teacher is absorbed into the social mediascape and experiences iterations with other content and other professionals that ultimately benefit their professional development.
This example represents the experiences of some teachers at Otago Polytechnic. Those who made an initial approach to the educational development centre were exposed to a number of issues and ideas relating to open educational resources and practices. Tentatively a few developed the confidence to use and contribute content into the social mediascape, some are beginning to present their own work as open educational resources. Subsequently the networking opportunities afforded through this participation are proposing a more sustainable practice of professional development that more directly meets their specific needs, as they begin to communicate with other professionals in their field who can offer context, advice and ideas that are more directly relevant to their subject area.
The role of the Polytechnic senior management cannot be understated in these initial successes. They permitted staff to explore and publish works, they permitted staff to work outside the learning management system that was being prescribed, they defended this exploration against internal critics and reactionaries, they actively researched notions of Web2 and socially networked media in education and quickly recognised the potential benefits and wider issues. They are developing a revised intellectual policy that adopts the use of a Creative Commons Attribution license as a default position - but with options to restrict a resource if it is needed. This simple feature within the policy retains the ability to protect IP or restrict copying and reuse where necessary, but enables individuals to participate in the development of open educational resources and adopt more open educational practices.
Otago Polytechnic's initial steps and resulting issues
Otago Polytechnic is a small public education and training institution in the South of New Zealand that graduates an average of 1987 students per year. In 2006 it established an Educational Development Centre to assist the institute in developing flexible learning programmes and staff training activities. Research into online learning has been allowed to refer wider than learning management system centric practices, with social media becoming a growing focus in the Centre. As a result the work of a small number of early adaptors from a range of departments is observable through William Lucas' work in the School of Languages (http://williamclassblog2006.blogspot.com/), Merrolee Penman and James Sunderland from The School of Occupational Therapy (http://oteducation.wordpress.com/ and http://participationinoccupation1.blogspot.com/), Tony Heptinstall with Cookery (http://otagocookery.blogspot.com), David Maquillin with Massage Therapy (http://massage-online.blogspot.com/index.html), Rachel Gillies from Art (http://photography-and-new-media-art.blogspot.com/), Wendy Ritson-Jones from the Library (http://wotsitabout.blogspot.com/2007/05/collaborative-research.html), and the staff enrolled in the course - Design for Flexible Learning Practice (http://flexiblelearningpractice.blogspot.com). This sample of work shows a number who are making gradual steps in socially networked media and gaining practical experience and critical awareness that will be valuable in the months ahead. These individuals communicate via an email list with others who have not set up a web log but have interest in it none-the-less. They post general questions and answers, things of interest and occasionally organise informal face to face meetings to support each other's progress.
Currently the Educational Development Centre is leading collaborative developments of open educational resources on wikis. Recognising the critical aspect of a wiki is a large and active number of participants the Centre went for already established platforms that were inviting open participation from people interested in developing educational resources. At the time there were 2 major projects attracting a large number of participants - Wikiversity and Wikieducator.
Wikiversity is a project under the Wikimedia Foundation and as the name implies, is a space for content that focuses on education (not just higher ed).
Wikieducator is a very similar initiative but headed by the Commonwealth of Learning using the same wiki platform as Wikiversity - Mediawiki.
Both these initiatives are developing into major open educational resource projects with the most notable difference about these compared to earlier Open Courseware projects like MIT's is that they use a wiki platform, which extends the principle of access to participation as well.
Otago Polytechnic's Educational Development Centre has been participating in both these initiatives to gage the quality of activity behind each and establish what level of interest there is among Otago Polytechnic staff. Initial work on both initiatives has been largely encouraging with staff quickly recognising the benefits of open and collaborative authoring.
Benefits found in working on a wiki include:
- Open access making resources easily reusable on other platforms
- Easy to edit, making development much more participatory - rather than reliant on developers
- Standard interface meeting usability criteria and helping to ensure a base line quality standard
- Version control and edit history is recorded and always available
- Communication channels behind every level of content
- Helping to change the organisation into a participatory culture in open educational resource development
Benefits of Wikiversity and Wikieducator
- Growing community ready to assist with development, proof reading, editing and translation
- Networking with an international community of practice in each topic area
- Publicity for Educational Institutions participating in such progressive initiatives
- Neutral platform that is not seen to be owned by competitors etc - conducive to open collaboration
- Platforms to use in the process of developing resources (free proof reading, translation and other contributions)
- Capability building of staff more in line with contemporary developments of Internet (Web2)
- Control of development is very dependent on level of participation
- Many subject areas have been started, but are not yet at a finished level (a sign of its early stages and tentative testing by others like us. We tend to see this as an opportunity for Educational Institutions establish strong presence)
- Lack of awareness in the general NZ education sector of wiki development processes and ethics that can affect level of staff commitment
- Hands off or wait and see approach from leadership can be discouraging to risk averse teachers
- Local copyright policies, and poor copyright management of local educational resources (third party breaches), and compatibility issues with the copyright license used on the Wikiversity and Wikieducator platforms.
The final concern relating to copyright may result in the Polytech having to set up its own wiki, which is both disappointing and limiting in terms of collaborative development and networking opportunities. The key issue is in the choice in copyright on both platforms that is difficult to manage and in some instances impossible to honour, may ultimately exclude some level of development contributions from the Polytechnic, and arguably from most educational institutions.
Wikiversity uses the Free Documentation License and Wikieducator uses a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. As explained earlier in this article, both these licenses restrict modifications and redistribution of derivative works to only being permissible if the resulting work is licensed with the same restriction. This legal mechanism is designed to ensure the continued growth of reusable content, but does it? As argued earlier, perhaps there are other things that encourage the growth of open content, namely - attribution, and that any legal mechanism while being difficult and largely impossible to enforce is enough to prevent reuse and participation.
Such is the case between Otago Polytechnic and the Wikiversity and Wikieducator platforms. While Otago Polytechnic is positioning itself to publish and contribute to the development of open educational resources, the license on those two platforms may prevent our participation. Otago Polytechnic cannot be certain what the range of its activities may be in the future, as would be the case with most educational institutions.
Situations that present difficulties when using "copyleft" resources:
- A training service contract with a local company requiring the creation of educational resources that must have all copyrights reserved due to the inclusion of content that is of a commercial concern to the client company.
- The need to remix other educational resources that are restricted, such as photos with release contracts that do not include open distribution rights or the creation of derivatives and so necessitate restrictions incompatible to "copyleft".
- The re contextualisation of an educational resource into a local needs that results in a resource that is believed to have (rightly or wrongly) monetary value to a Department or client, who therefore wishes to reserve copyrights for a period of time to make use of the first to market principle.
There are other scenarios that present difficulties for an educational institution that begins to develop resources and practices based on mechanisms of "copyleft". The requirement to redistribute derivatives from a copyleft artifact under the same copyleft restriction may be impossible to honour in these situations. In some instances it may be possible to keep "copyright" and "copyleft" resources separate and release a remix under dual licenses, but where a direct derivative has been made, and the distinction between the two have blurred - this management of dual licenses is impossible. Complications in copyright like these are simply impractical to manage. Which is why the institution will inevitably base its collaborative efforts, resource sharing and sampling, and general open educational development on content that is licensed in such a way so as to only require attribution - in other words Creative Commons Attribution. This license maintains the re usability of a resource in any given situation without restriction other than attribution. It benefits the institution by encouraging wider reuse and subsequent attribution which may turn out to be of greater value than the availability of "copyleft" educational resources - especially if research indicates that open educational resources proliferate regardless of copyleft mechanisms and more because of the value of attribution.
Steps forward for Otago Poly
It is likely that Otago Polytechnic open educational resource developments will have to take place on its on wiki that will use a Creative Commons Attribution license by default, and allow for other licenses to be applied if needed. Once content is developed to a sufficient level it will be copied into the Wikieducator and Wikiversity platforms for further development by people in those projects. It is not likely that the Polytech will be able to use any subsequent modifications that are made on those platforms due to them being made under a Share Alike restriction, but we will at least be able to see the developments and consider future directions of our own resource developments, and we may also benefit from the social networking opportunities offered by those more global platforms.
A structure for wiki content that we are considering:
Activity pages will be the focus of the resource development and our local wiki will enable embedding and mash up of multi media as much as MediaWiki Extensions and our own commissioned developments can achieve. We will continue to develop staff capabilities and confidence in the use and participation in socially networked media and work towards a high and identifiable quality of open educational resources that are made available through socially networked media channels.
We will do this through the staff development activities of the Educational Development Centre such as: The Designing for Flexible Learning Practice course Networked Learning workshops and informal support through facilitation of email discussion lists and face to face meetings.
and the Programme Development activities that are facilitated through the Educational Development Centre but conducted by staff in the Departments who are developing their programmes. These developments are aimed at improving the flexible learning opportunities in a course, and so often though not always involve the use of online teaching and learning technologies.
Through these activities we aim to develop better awareness amongst staff towards copyright, to lead that discussion into development of open educational resources, and to build a stronger presence of Otago Polytechnic on socially networked media platforms through the encouragement and support of staff participating in social media arenas.
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