OpenED contribution 1: Introduction

I’m presenting on Wednesday at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver.  Here are a few of the things I will not get time to say.

In many respects I am an amateur and a dabbler in this area of open education. The wikipedia definition: “Open educational resources are educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute.”  I put a lot of my work in the early 1990s into the giveaway category and other items I put up for sale and copyrighted. I sold literally none, but I swapped a lot and gave away a lot. The benefits I found were huge in terms of relationships and a general improvement in quality of my work.

When I arrived at the College of Education in Christchurch in 2001 to find my copyrighted material had been passed out to all students for a number of years. It was shortly after this that I encountered the open education movement and the idea of creative commons and shared educational resources.

The Riccarton Project

In 1999-2000 I worked at Riccarton High School in an 18-month long professional development programme funded by private money (the Riccarton Project, supported by Denis Chapman). There was huge curriculum development going on at this stage nationally and in the school. There was the drivers of pressure of work, new approaches to assessment and a revising of the curriculum. One department in particular made huge progress, which seems to have remained.

Leadership in the department concerned was positive, optimistic and modeled an open approach to work, sharing ideas and resources and collaboration.

These teachers seemed to appreciated right from the start the benefits of collaboration and sharing, and in many respects were more interested in how simple and easy it could be made. The decision to share and collaborate had already been made.  The discussions were around version tracking, the quality of resources, new ideas and who was working on what rather than anything else to do with the value or otherwise of sharing.

New functionality, which arrived six months into this time gave us network drives that were accessible from home, providing a further impetus and benefit. Ten years later I do wonder what benefit cheap Internet access could also have had to offer had it been available at the time.

Another project

In another time and place, there was another project aiming to facilitate teacher resource sharing.  It had a reasonably costly central infrastructure, special interest groups, forums and local co-ordinators.

It never seemed to really get off the ground.  Among other things, there were problems with the taxonomy and categorisation of resources.  It was probably ahead of itself in some ways, with nearly working functionality to serve up tests, provide feedback as well as mere repository and communication functions.

What I found interesting is this: some of the small parallel informal networks seemed to work much better in achieving the aims. In one particular subject area there were a small number of teachers who collaborated to share ideas, resources and more importantly, recommendations.  The “mother ship” repository was still there, but served merely as a place to go to get things you heard may have been good.

The reports after the project indicated many teachers avoided using the search and find functionality in the central system but relied much more on recommendations from their informal network.

This was well ahead of the tagging, social networking, profile based sites.  In many respects this shows the power of the small network.  Success in repository models may need this social network flavour as well.  I think we have the technology now.

Scenario: A teacher in Canterbury develops two or three local contacts, who between them attract a small critical mass of material and ideas.  A small informal connection at a conference creates a link to another teacher in the far north, who in turn has links with a few locals. A tenuous connection between these two teachers can create a powerful linkage between the two networks, all happening outside the formal system.

Now: my day job as an educational designer

With 2007 came a merger between the Christchurch College of Education and the University of Canterbury.  Immediately there was pressure on the teaching at the College.  In the future the trajectory was towards

  1. Less contact hours
  2. Increased class sizes
  3. Standardisation of course sizes.

Huge change.  I was wondering what to do and how best to proceed.

Informal conversations

I started  a few informal visits to lecturers to see what was happening and where best to proceed.  Conversations often turned to the workload required to adapt and develop resources for new and revamped courses.  I chatted to a few people and jotted down some scribbled notes.

These brief conversations revealed some quite interesting dynamics. Simultaneously to having reduced class contact hours and larger classes mean some new approaches to teaching, or in some cases, taking seriously what we were already doing.  I changed a little in my thinking: Open Educational Resources were a viable way ahead, nearly a moral imperative.  There seemed to be every possible permutation and combination of attitudes.  In amongst the change there were some quite productive and functional groups.

Formalised questions

At some stage I formalized my questions a little to see what could emerge as trends.  Having found some interest in sharing resources, but also some barriers, the questions became (for better or worse)

  1. A brief description of OER.  Heard of it?
  2. Yes: used them? (yes/no, why/why not)
    Yes: contributed ever? (yes/no, why/why not)
  3. No: would you? What do you think?
  4. Comments?  (Anything?  Where do you think we are at at the moment, what about the way ahead?)
  5. Two specific problems: personalisation & context issue – any comments?
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