OERs: Public Service Education and Open Production

I suspect that most people over a certain age have some vague memory of OU programmes broadcast in support of OU courses taking over BBC2 at at various “off-peak” hours of the day (including Saturday mornings, if I recall correctly…)

These courses formed an important part of OU courses, and were also freely available to anyone who wanted to watch them. In certain respects, they allowed the OU to operate as a public service educator, bringing ideas from higher education to a wider audience. (A lot has been said about the role of the UK’s personal computer culture in the days of the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro in bootstrapping software skills development, and in particular the UK computer games industry; but we don’t hear much about the role the OU played in raising aspiration and introducing the very idea of what might be involved in higher education through free-to-air broadcasts of OU course materials, which I’m convinced it must have played. I certainly remember watching OU maths and physics programmes as a child, and wanting to know more about “that stuff” even if I couldn’t properly follow it at the time.)

The OU’s broadcast strategy has evolved since then, of course, moving into prime time broadcasts (Child of Our Time, Coast, various outings with James May, The Money Programme, and so on) as well as “online media”: podcasts on iTunes and video content on Youtube, for example.

The original OpenLearn experiment, which saw 10-20hr extracts of OU course material being released for free continues, but as I understand it, is now thought of in the context of a wider OpenLearn engagement strategy that will aggregate all the OU’s public output (from open courseware and OU podcasts to support for OU/BBC co-produced content) under a single banner: OpenLearn

I suspect there will continue to be forays into the world of “social media”, too:

A great benefit of the early days of OU programming on the BBC was that you couldn’t help but stumble across it. You can still stumble across OU co-produced broadcasts on the BBC now, of course, but they don’t fulfil the same role: they aren’t produced as academic programming designed to support particular learning outcomes and aren’t delivered in a particularly academic way. They’re more about entertainment. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it does influence the stance you take towards viewing the material.)

If we think of the originally produced TV programmes as “OERs”, open educational resources, what might we say about them?

– they were publicly available;
– they were authentic, relating to the delivery of actual OU courses;
– the material was viewed by OU students enrolled on the associated course, as well as viewers following a particular series out of general interest, and those who just happened to stumble by the programme;
– they provided pacing, and the opportunity for a continued level of engagement over a period of weeks, on a single academic topic;
– they provided a way of delivering lifelong higher education as part of the national conversation, albeit in the background. But it was always there…

In a sense, the broadcasts offered a way for the world to “follow along” parts of a higher education as it was being delivered.

In many ways, the “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs), in which a for-credit course is also opened up to informal participants, and the various Stanford open courses that are about to start (Free computer science courses, new teaching technology reinvent online education), use a similar approach.

I generally see this as a Good Thing, as universities engaging in public service education whilst at the same time delivering additional support, resources, feedback, assessment and credit to students formally enrolled on the course.

What I’m not sure about is that initiatives like OpenLearn succeed in the “public service education” role, in part because of the discovery problem: you couldn’t help but stumble across OU/BBC Two broadcasts at certain times of the day. Nowadays, I’d be surprised if you ever stumbled across OpenLearn content while searching the web…

A recent JISC report on OER Impact focussed on the (re)use of OERs in higher education, identifying a major use case of OERs as enhancing teaching practice.

(NB I would have embedded the OER Impact project video here, but WordPress.com doesn’t seem to support embeds from Blip…; openness is not just about the licensing, it’s also about the practical ease of (re)use;-)

However, from my quick reading of the OER impact report, it doesn’t really seem to consider the “open course” use case demonstrated by MOOCs, the Stanford courses, or mid-70s OU course broadcasts. (Maybe this was out of scope…!;-)

Nor does it consider the production of OERs (I think that was definitely out of scope).

For the JISC OER3 funding call, I was hoping to put in a bid for a project based around an open “production-in-presentation” model of resource development targeted to a specific community. For a variety of reasons, (not least, I suspect, my lack of project management skills…) that’s unlikely to be submitted in time, so I thought I’d post the main chunk of the bid here as a way of trying to open up the debate a little more widely about the role of OERs, the utility of open production models, and the extent to they can be used to support cross-sector curriculum innovation/discovery as well as co-creation of resources and resource reuse (both within HE and into a target user community).

Outline
Rapid Resource Discovery and Development via Open Production Pair Teaching (ReDOPT) seeks to draft a set of openly licensed resources for potential (re)use in courses in two different institutions … through the real-time production and delivery of an open online short-course in the area of data handling and visualisation. This approach subverts the more traditional technique of developing materials for a course and then retrospectively making them open, by creating the materials in public and in an openly licensed way, in a way that makes them immediately available for informal study as well as open web discovery, embedding them in a target community, and then bringing them back into the closed setting for formal (re)use. The course will be promoted to the data journalism and open data communities as a free “MOOC” (Massive Online Open Course)/P2PU style course, with a view to establishing an immediate direct use by a practitioner community. The project will proceed as follows: over a 10-12 week period, the core project team will use a variant of the Pair Teaching approach to develop and publish an informal open, online course hosted on an .ac.uk domain via a set of narrative linked resources (each one about the length of a blog post and representing 10 minutes to 1 hour of learner activity) mapping out the project team’s own exploration/learning journey through the topic area. The course scope will be guided by a skeleton curriculum determined in advance from a review of current literature, informal interviews/questionnaires and perceived skills and knowledge gaps in the area. The created resources will contain openly licensed custom written/bespoke material, embedded third party content (audio, video, graphical, data), and selected links to relevant third party material. A public custom search engine in the topic area will also be curated during the course. Additional resources created by course participants (some of whom may themselves be part of the project team), will be integrated into the core course and added to the custom search engine by the project team. Part-time, hourly paid staff will also be funded to contribute additional resources into the evolving course. A second phase of the project will embed the resources as learning resources in the target community through the delivery of workshops based around and referring out to the created resources, as well as community building around the resources. Because of timescales involved, this proposal is limited to the production of the draft materials and embedding them as valuable and appropriate resources in the target community, and does not extend as far as the reuse/first formal use case. Success metrics will therefore be limited to impact evaluation, volume and reach of resources produced, community engagement with the live production of the materials, the extent to which project team members intend to directly reuse the materials produced as a result.

The Proposal
1. The aim of the project is to produce a set of educational resources in a practical topic area (data handling and visualisation), that are reusable by both teachers (as teaching resources) and independent learners (as learning resources), through the development of an openly produced online course in the style of an uncourse created in real time using a Pair Teaching approach as opposed to a traditional sole author or OU style course team production process, and to establish those materials as core reusable educational resources in the target community.

3. … : Extend OER through collaborations beyond HE: the proposal represents a collaboration between two HEIs in the production and anticipated formal (re)use of the materials created, as well as directly serving the needs of the fledgling data-driven journalism community and the open public data communities.

4. … : Addressing sector challenges (ii Involving academics on part-time, hourly-paid contracts): the open production model will seek to engage /part time, hourly paid staff/ in creating additional resources around the course themes that they can contribute back to the course under an open license and that cover a specific issue identified by the course lead or that the part-time staff themselves believe will add value to the course. (Note that the course model will also encourage participants in the course to create and share relevant resources without any financial recompense.) Paying hourly rate staff for the creation of additional resources (which may include quizzes or other informal assessment/feedback related resources), or in the role of editors of community produced resources, represents a middle ground between the centrally produced core resources and any freely submitted resources from the community. Incorporating the hourly paid contributor role is based on the assumption that payment may be appropriate for sourcing course enhancing contributions that are of a higher quality (and may take longer to produce) than community sourced contributions, as well as requiring the open licensing of materials so produced. The model also explores a model under which hourly staff can contribute to the shaping of the course on an ad hoc basis if they see opportunities to do so.

5. … Enhancing the student experience (ii Drawing on student-produced materials): The open production model will seek to engage with the community following the course and encourage them to develop and contribute resources back into the community under an open license. For example, the use of problem based exercises and activities will result in the production of resources that can be (re)used within the context of the uncourse itself as an output of the actual exercise or activity.

6. … The project seeks to explore practical solutions to two issues relating to the wider adoption of OERs by producers and consumers, and provide a case study that other projects may draw on. In the first case, how to improve the discoverablity and direct use of resources on the web by “learners” who do not know they are looking for OERs, or even what OERs are, through creating resources that are published as contributions to the development and support of a particular community and as such are likely to benefit from “implicit” search engine optimisation (SEO) resulting from this approach. In the second case, to explore a mechanism that identifies what resources a community might find useful through curriculum negotiation during presentation, and the extent to which “draft” resources might actually encourage reuse and revision.

7. Rather than publishing an open version of a predetermined, fixed set of resources that have already been produced as part of a closed process and then delivered in a formal setting, the intention is thus to develop an openly licensed set of “draft” resources through the “production in presentation” delivery of an informal open “uncourse” (in-project scope), and at a later date reuse those resources in a formally offered closed/for-credit course (out-of-project scope). The uncourse will not incorporate assessment elements, although community engagement and feedback in that context will be in scope. The uncourse approach draws on the idea of “teacher as learner”, with the “teacher” capturing and reflecting on meaningful learning episodes as they explore a topic area and then communicate these through the development of materials that others can learn from, as well as demonstrating authentic problem solving and self-directed learning behaviours that model the independent learning behaviours we are trying to develop in our students.

8. The quality of the resources will be assured at least to the level of fit-for-purpose at the time of release by combining the uncourse production style with a Pair Teaching approach. A quality improvement process will also operate through responding to any issues identified via the community based peer-review and developmental testing process that results from developing the materials in public.

9. The topic area was chosen based on several factors: a) the experience and expertise of the project team; b) the observation that there are no public education programmes around the increasing amounts of open public data; c) the observation that very few journalism academics have expertise in data journalism; d) the observation that practitioners engaged in data journalism do not have time or interest in to become academics, but do appear willing to share their knowledge.

10. The first uncourse will run over a 6-8 week period and result in the central/core development of circa 5 to 10 blog posts styled resources a week, each requiring 20-45 minutes of “student” activity, (approx. 2-6 hours study time per week equivalent) plus additional directed reading/media consumption time (ideally referencing free and openly licensed content). A second presentation of the uncourse will reuse and extend materials produced during the first presentation, as well as integrating resources, where possible, developed by the community in the first phase and monitoring the amount of time taken to revise/reversion them, as required, compared to the time taken to prepare resources from scratch centrally. Examples of real-time, interactive and graphical representations of data will be recorded as video screencasts and made available online. Participants will be encouraged to consider the information design merits of comparative visualisation methods for publication on different media platforms: print, video, interactive and mobile. In all, we hope to deliver up to 50 hours of centrally produced, openly licensed materials by the end of the course. The uncourse will also develop a custom search engine offering coverage of openly licensed and freely accessible resources related to the course topic area.

11. The course approach is inspired to a certain extent by the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) style courses pioneered by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Jim Groom et al. The MOOC approach encourages learners to explore a given topic space with the help of some wayfinders. Much of the benefit is derived from the connections participants make between each other and the content by sharing, reflecting, and building on the contributions of others across different media spaces, like blogs, Twitter, forums, YouTube, etc.

12. The course model also draws upon the idea of a uncourse, as demonstrated by Hirst in the creation of the Digital Worlds game development blog [ http://digitalworlds.wordpress.com ] that produced a series of resources as part of an openly blogged learning journey that have since been reused directly in an OU course (T151 Digital Worlds); and the Visual Gadgets blog ( http://visualgadgets.blogspot.com ) that drafted materials that later came to be reused in the OU course T215 Communication and information technologies, and then made available under open license as the OpenLearn unit Visualisation: Visual representations of data and information [ http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=4442 ]

13. A second phase of the project will explore ways of improving the discovery of resources in an online context, as well as establishing them as important and relevant resources within the target community. Through face-to-face workshops and hack days, we will run a series of workshops at community events that draw on and extend the activities developed during the initial uncourse, and refer participants to the materials. A second presentation of the uncourse will be offered as a way of testing and demonstrating reuse of the resources, as well as providing an exit path from workshop activities. One possible exit path from the uncourse would be entry into formal academic courses.

14. Establishing the resources within the target community is an important aspect of the project. Participation in community events plays an important role in this, and also helps to prove the resources produced. Attendance at events such as the Open Government Data camp will allow us to promote the availability of the resources to the appropriate European community, further identify community needs, and also provide a backdrop for the development of a promotional video with vox pops from the community hopefully expressing support for the resources being produced. The extent to which materials do become adopted and used within the community will be form an important part of the project evaluation.

15. … By embedding resources in the target community, we aim to enhance the practical utility of the resources within that community as well as providing an academic consideration of the issues involved. A key part of the evaluation workpackage, …, will be to rate the quality of the materials produced and the level of engagement with and reuse of them by both educators and members of the target community.

Note that I am still keen on working this bid up a bit more for submission somewhere else…;-)

[Note that the opinions expressed herein are very much my own personal ones…]

PS see also COL-UNESCO consultation: Guidelines for OER in Higher Education – Request for comments: OER Guidelines for Higher Education Stakeholders

18 comments

  1. Pingback: OERs: Public Service Education and Open Production | E-Learning-Inclusivo | Scoop.it
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  5. benthamfish

    Tony

    Very interesting, as ever. It so happens that a few of us in the XCRI community are producing a short work-based learning accredited module for information management of courses information (via Middlesex University). I’m now wondering whether the approach you’ve suggested here would give us a simpler way of producing materials. Is it OK if I share this with the team, and perhaps we might pick your brains a bit more? Our time scales are quite short, so I’m not certain what might be possible.

    Alan
    alan@alanpaull.co.uk

    • Tony Hirst

      @alan – sure thing; I’d be happy to chip in ideas, work on the envisioned process a bit more if you’d like to see how we might put it into practice etc

  6. Andy Lane

    “What I’m not sure about is that initiatives like OpenLearn succeed in the “public service education” role, in part because of the discovery problem: you couldn’t help but stumble across OU/BBC Two broadcasts at certain times of the day. Nowadays, I’d be surprised if you ever stumbled across OpenLearn content while searching the web…”

    Prepare to be surprised. About 80% of visitors to OpenLearn come via search and constitute a lot of our bounce visitors. So folk do stumble across OpenLaern content while looking for information on something and the OpenLearn content features in the top 10 search returns. They can also stumble across it in other sites which copy or link to our content (we average about 3000 referring sites a month). A different type of stumbling I agree but don’t underestimate it.

    Andy

    • Tony Hirst

      @andy It’s a matter of scale I guess. I know OpenLearn does get a fair amount of traffic, but not huge amounts? I rarely chance upon OpenLearn content, even with my personalised settings, unless I specifically use a site: limit. And if visitors are bouncing: either the page they land on satisifes them, or they deem it to be irrelevant…;-)

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  9. Andy Lane

    @Tony 300,000 vistors a month with most being new means that there are good numbers stumbling upon the content but it is ceratainly the case that there are many more channels and content to stumble over than we had available when we were younger so the impact may be realtively less.

    • Tony Hirst

      @andy – okay, okay, I take it all back….;-) I was just trying to – err, in fact, I don’t remember what I was just trying to, now…. Agreed, you’re getting good numbers… (I guess I should look at the stats…) Is it all concentrating on a few pages, hav you got a few highly successful search terms, or is the coverage quite broad? Is there a public report on OpenLearn usage/stats anywhere?

  10. laura

    Hi Tony
    This looks really interesting. I totally agree with Andy. The chances of stumbling across online content is so much higher than stumbling across TV content. For a start there are some basic differences that help – online is 24/7, globally available. And while we’ve definitely had some Moodle related SEO challenges in the last 18months we do have quite a bit of expertise focussed on this. We also have paid search driving traffic which Google are nice enough to fund for us, and because the content is designed to be taken away and republished you’ll find our content on lots of other sites. And we have some major referrers like the BBC, money supermarket.com (an audience who appreciates free) and educationportal. You’ll find tons of stats on the intranet if you search for OMU.
    Keep me updated if this goes anywhere or I can do anything to help make it happen. Hacks and hackers and open knowledge foundation would be good snowballers…
    Laura

  11. laura

    P.s the coverage is broad, just check out niche search terms such as eutriphication and ‘miosis and mitosis’. I iqnk you are right that having a community create the resources could mean you end up with more useful metadata for reaching an audience who don’t yet speak in the language of the subject. So what if you are fascinated by what grows in water and why, but don’t know the term eutriphication. (excuse sp, comment box doesn’t like edits)

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