Reading Open Content is So, Like, Yesterday just now, the following bits jumped out at me:
Sometimes– maybe even most of the time– what I find myself needing is something as simple as a reading list, a single activity idea, a unit for enrichment. At those times, that often-disparaged content is pure gold. There’s a place for that lighter, shorter, smaller content… one place among many.
I absolutely agree that content is just one piece of the open education mosaic that is worth a lot less on its own than in concert with practices, context, artifacts of process, and actually– well, you know– teaching. Opening content up isn’t the sexiest activity. And there ain’t nothin’ Edupunk about it. But I would argue that in one way if it’s not the most important, it’s still to be ranked first among equals. Not just for reasons outlined above, but because for the most part educators have to create and re-create anew the learning context in their own environment. Artifacts from the processes of others– the context made visible– are powerful and useful additions that can invigorate one’s own practice, but I still have to create that context for myself, regardless of whether it is shared by others or not. Content, however, can be directly integrated and used as part of that necessary process. When all is said and done, neither content nor “context” stand on their own particularly well.
For a long time now, I’ve been confused about what ‘remixing’ and ‘reusing’ open educational content means in practical terms that will see widespread, hockey stick growth in the use of such material.
So here’s where I’m at… (err, maybe…?!)
Open educational content at the course level: I struggle to see the widespread reuse of courses, as such; that is, one insitution delivering another; if someone from another institution wants to reuse our course materials (pedagogy built in!), we license it to them; for a fee. And maybe we also run the assessment, or validate it. It might be that some institutions direct their students to a pre-existing, open ed course produced by another instituion where the former instituion doesnlt offer the course; maybe several institutions will hook up together around specialist open courses so they can offer them to small numbers of their own students in a larger, distributed cohort, and as such gain some mutual benefit from bringing the cohort up to a size where it works as a community, or where it becomes financially viable to provide an instructor to lead students through the material.
For indidividuals working through a course on their own, it’s worth bearing in mind that most OERs released by “trad” HEIs are not designed as distance education materials, created with the explicit intention that they are studied by an individual at a remote location. The distance educational materials we create at the OU often follow a “tutorial-in-print” model, with built in pacing and “pedagogical scaffolding” in the form of exercises and self-assessment questions. Expecting widespread consumption of complete courses by individuals is, I think, unlikely. As with a distributed HEI cohort model, it may be that gorups of individuals will come together around a complete course, and maybe even collectively recruit a “tutor”, but again, I think this could only ever be a niche play.
The next level of granularity down is what would probably have been termed a “learning object” not very long ago, and is probably called something like an ‘element’ or ‘item’ in a ‘learning design’, but which I shall call instead a teaching or learning anecdote (i.e. a TLA ;-); be it an exercise, a story, an explanation or an activity, it’s a narrative something that you can steal, reuse and repurpose in your own teaching or learning practice. And the open licensing means that you know you can reuse it in a fair way. You provide the context, and possibly some customisation, but the original narrative came from someone else.
And at the bottom is the media asset – an image, video, quote, or interactive that you can use in your own works, again in a fair way, without having to worry about rights clearance. It’s just stuff that you can use. (Hmmm I wonder: if you think about a course as a graph, a TLA is a fragment of that graph (a set of nodes connected by edges), and a node, (and maybe even an edge?) is an asset?)
The finer the granularity, the more likely it is that something can be reused. To reuse a whole course maybe requires that I invest hours of time on that single resource. To reuse a “teaching anecdote”, exercise or activity takes minutes. To drop in a video or an image into my teaching means I can use it for a few a seconds to illustrate a point, and then move on.
As educators, we like to put our own spin on the things we teach; as learners viewed from a constructivist or constructionist stance, we bring our own personal context to what we are learning about. The commitment required to teach, or follow, a whole course is a significant one. The risk associated with investing a large amount of attention in that resource is not trivial. But reusing an image, or quoting someone else’s trick or tip, that’s low risk… If it doesn’t work out, so waht?
For widespread reuse of the smaller open ed fragments, then we need to be able to find them quickly and easily. A major benefit of reuse is that a reused component allows you to costruct your story quicker, because you can find readymade pieces to drop into it. But if the pieces are hard to find, then it bcomes easier to create them yourself. The bargain is soemthing like this:
if (quality of resource x fit with my story/time spent looking for that resource) > (quality of resource x fit with my story/time spent creating that resource), then I’m probably better of creating it myself…
(The “fit with my story” is the extent to which the resource moves my teaching or learning on in the direction I want it to go…)
And this is possible where the ‘we need more‘ OERs comes in; we need to populate something – probably a search engine – with enough content so that when I make my poorly formed query, something reasonable comes back; and even if the results don’t turn up the goods with my first query, the ones that are returned should give me the clues – and the hope – that I will be able to find what I need with a refinement or two of my search query.
I’m not sure if there is a “flickr for diagrams” yet (other than flickr itself, of course), maybe something along the lines of O’Reilly’s image search, but I could see that being a useful tool. Similarly, a deep search tool into the slides on slideshare (or at least the ability to easily pull out single slides from appropriately licensed presentations).
Now it might be that any individual asset is only reused once or twice; and that any individual TLA is only used once or twice; and that any given course is only used once or twice; but there will be more assets than TLAs (becasue resources can be disaggreated from TLAs), and more TLAs than courses (becuase TLAs can be disaggregated from courses), so the “volume reuse” of assets summed over all assets might well generate a hockey stick growth curve?
In terms of attention – who knows? If a course consumes 100x as much attention as a TLA, and a TLA consumes 10x as much attenion as an asset. maybe it will be the course level open content that gets the hiockey stcik in terms of “attention consumption”?
PS being able to unlock things at the “asset” level is one of the reasons why I don’t much like it when materials are released just as PDFs. For example, if a PDF is released as CC non-derivative, can I take a screenshot of a diagram contained within it and just reuse that? Or the working through of a particular mathematical proof?
PS see also “Misconceptions About Reuse”.