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

Drafting a Bid Proposal – Comments?

[Note that I might treat this post a bit like a wiki page… Note to self: sort out a personal wiki]

Call is JISC OER3 – here’s the starter for ten (comments appreciated, both positive and negative; letters of support/expressions of interest welcome; comments relating to possible content/themes, declarations of interest in taking the course, etc etc also welcome, though I will be soliciting these more specifically at some point)

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 “study” as well as open web discovery, and then bringing them back into the closed setting for (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 learning journey through the topic area. The course scope will be guided by a skeletal 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 be funded to contribute additional resources into the evolving course. Because of timescales involved, this proposal is limited to the production of the draft materials, and does not extend as far as the reuse/first formal use case. Success metrics will therefore be limited to volume and reach of resources produced, community engagement with the live production of the materials, and the extent to which project team members intend to directly reuse the materials produced as a result.

Fragments… Obtaining Individual Photo Descriptions from flickr Sets

I think I’ve probably left it too late to think up some sort of hack for the UK Discovery developer competition, but here’s a fragment that might provide a starting point for someone else… How to use a Yahoo pipe to grab a list of photos in a particular flickr set (such as one of the sets posted by the UK National Archive to the flickr commons)

The recipe makes use of two calls to the flickr api: one to get the a list of photos in a particular set, the second, repeatedly made call, to grab details down for each photo in the set.

In pseudo-code, we would write the algorithm along the lines of:

get list of photos in a given flickr set
for each photo in the set:
  get the details for the photo

Here’s the pipe:

Example of calling flickr api to obtain descriptions of photos in a flickr set

The first step is construct a call to the flickr API to pull down the photos in a given set. The API is called via a URI of the form:

http://api.flickr.com/services/rest/?method=flickr.photosets.getPhotos
&api_key=APIKEY&photoset_id=PHOTOSETID&format=json&nojsoncallback=1

The API returns a JSON object containing separate items identifying each photo in the set.

The rename block constructs a new attribute for each photo item (detailURI) containing the corresponding photo ID. The RegEx block applies a regular expression to each item’s detailURI attribute to transform it to a URI that calls the flickr API for details of a particular phot, by photo id. The call this time is of the form:

http://api.flickr.com/services/rest/?method=flickr.photos.getInfo
&api_key=APIKEY&photo_id=PHOTOID&format=rest

Finally, the Loop block runs through each item in the original set, calls the flickr API using the detailURI to get the details for the corresponding photo, and replaces each item with the full details of each photo.

flickr api - photo details

You can find the pipe here: grabbing photo details for photos in a flickr set

An obvious next step might be to enrich the phot decriptions with semantic tags using something like the Reuters OpenCalais service. On a quick demo, this didn’t seem to work in the pipes context (I wonder if there is Calais API throttling going on, or maybe a timeout?) but I’ve previously posted a recipe using Python that shows how to call the Open Calais service in a Python context: Augmenting OU/BBC Co-Pro Programme Data With Semantic Tags.

Again in pseudo code, we might do something like:

get JSON feed out of Yahoo pipe
for each item:
  call the Calais API against the description element

We could then index the description, title, and semantic tags for each photo and use them to support search and linking between items in the set.

Other pivots potentially arise from identifying whether photos are members of other sets, and using the metadata associated with those other sets to support discovery, as well as information contained within comments associate with each photo.

Thinkses Around Open Course Accreditation

What do P2PU, the University of Mary Washington (UMW), and a joint venture between the National Research Council of Canada (Institute for Information Technology, Learning and collaborative Technologies Group, PLE Project), The Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University and the University of Prince Edward Island have in common? The answer is that they either have, or are about to, run open online courses, at undergraduate level, for free, on the web.

In the case of P2PU and the Canadian joint venture, the courses were run without credit. At UMW, the DS106 Digital Storytelling course ran for the first time in 2010 as a for credit course for registered UMW students, albeit largely in public. In 2011, it has run as a course with loose boundaries, open to all whilst at the same time providing a recognised course offering within UMW itself. In each case, the course duration was of the order of 10 weeks.

With HE in the UK going through a phase of soul-searching around the question of “where’s the money going to come from”, it could be argued that we need to start doing some work around business model innovation. So here’s one of my starters for ten… (I have floated this internally, and no-one’s picked up on it, so I feel as if I’m not giving away anything away by posting it here…)

The idea is simple: a recognised award offering body offers a module or course container that will allow participants in online courses to receive recognised academic credit points based in part on their participation in an open, online course, in part on their reflections about what they learned on the course.

What follows are initial (probably naive) thoughts on how it might work…

The module is inspired in part by the International Baccalaureate’s CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) component as well as HE level course modules developed to recognise work based or prior experiential learning; it provides a means by which paid for assessment may be decoupled from course delivery. To try and address concerns, the proposal in the first instance is that the container be used to award credit for students who have freely participated in one of a recognised number of open educational units, for example from the OU’s OpenLearn website or one or more courses offered by P2PU (subject to agreement).

OpenLearn Courses: participation in these courses is based on individual engagement with the course material, informally supported by one or more forums or social spaces open to all. This model allows us to explore the extent to which purely independent learning within a controlled open courseware context provides an appropriate context for accredited independent study.

One or more OU Uncourses/Learning Journey Courses (or open, online courses run by academics in other institutions): a significant part of the original course material drafted for the Relevant Knowledge short course T151 Digital Worlds was authored over a 15-20 week period on a public blog hosted on wordpress.com. The materials posted combined elements of personal learning diary as the OU author explored the subject area, as well as learning devices borrowed from the OU’s tutorial-in-print style of writing (in-line exercises, self-reflection questions, and worked through tutorials, for example). By running one or more new “learning journey” courses, such as in areas where material is being drafted for fully fledged future OU courses, where material is timely (for example, in response to a BBC series or short term skills gap (such as the opening up of data in central and local government)), or where there exists considerable vendor produced third party training material albeit in a poorly structured form as far as course design goes (for example, Google tutorials around Google Apps, or Google Analytics, or the Yahoo User Interface libraries), we can: i) pilot the open course container model; ii) create useful open resources “for the common good”; c) draft course materials for possible formal (paid for) OU course offerings.

P2PU Courses: P2PU runs 10 week courses for small cohorts starting throughout the year. Learners engage with each other as well as the course resources and course instructors. Recognising participation in this sort of course allows us to explore the extent to which an open accreditation module can be used to recognise participation in semi-formal courses. Recognising participation with P2PU courses also provides an opportunity for the OU to develop ties to the Mozilla Foundation, who support P2PU and are keen to see it develop a range of semi-professional courses based around the open web and open software development.

How the Container Works

The container awards credit based on the fulfilment of several criteria:

– demonstration of engagement with, or participation in, a recognised open, online course; this requirement means we know that learners were at least exposed to a certain of content we recognise;

– a reflective assessment component; this may take the form of a reflective essay, or piece of project work arising from the course and a critical review of that work.

– optionally, results from quizzes provided during the course. These not only demonstrate engagement with the course, but also provide some means of demonstrating a particular level of attainment in particular topic areas through computer marked assessment.

In the first instance, accreditation is offered for independent study based on participation with one of a limited number of pre-identified open online courses. In this way, we could artificially limit the range of subject areas and course models engaged with by the initial batches of learners to a know set of approved courses. This approach allows us to mitigate the risks involved with a prove the model and allow the course model to develop in a carefully controlled way.

The OpenLearn Context (2011I-2011L)

To a certain extent, the idea is based on a particular vision of how we might go about assessing participation in open online courses run outside the OU. However, I think it might also be used to provide a way in to formal study for students wishing to take formal OU awards based on prior engagement with OpenLearn materials.

By accrediting engagement with two OpenLearn based units derived from current Technology short course/Relevant Knowledge programme courses, we can compare achievement levels across formal and informal presentations of the material. For example, if material from Relevant Knowledge short courses in the their final presentation are released to OpenLearn immediately prior to the final presentation, we can engage learners around course material that is concurrently being offered in a supported fashion as an officially recognised OU course through the VLE, and informally via OpenLearn. As such, we can explore the extent to which an open course container might: i) extend the life of a course; ii) provide alternative pathways to credit and assessment models for students interested in a particular topic area but not necessarily interested in “named credit” for a course.

The Uncourse/Learning Journey Context

As institutions such as the OU continue to innovate in the areas of informal and semi-formal education through OpenLearn and emerging practice in Digital Scholarship, the uncourse/learning journey, originally inspired, in part, by the notion of “misguided tours”, provides a framework for digital scholars to record their learning journey through a new subject area as a learning pathway that others might follow. By employing writing devices that well are proven in the delivery of “tutorial-in-print” style learning materials, the learning diary becomes a piece of instructional material in its own right. Through openly recording the learning journey, and ideally engaging with other learners interested in the topic area, the author should also remain free to negotiate the future direction of the learning journey (hence its declaration as an ‘uncourse’) and so discover a curriculum that fairly reflects the learning needs of its participants.

The P2PU Context

If, as seems likely, ad hoc open online courses continue to emerge as a consequence of: a) the increasing availability of high quality content that can be put to use as a learning resource, even if not originally designed as one; b) the growth in online social networks and an apparent desire and willingness for learners to come together and participate in semi-structured learning directed activity, there will be a growing market for recognising participation in such activities and acknowledging it in some way. Through recognising participation in P2PU courses in certain areas, it may be possible for HEIs to develop closer ties with the Mozilla Foundation and engage with open courses in areas complementary to formal offerings (e.g. in the OU’s case, the Web Certificate, Open Source Tools and Linux courses). Such engagement provides opportunities for using P2PU courses as a marketing channel similar to the way in which OpenLearn units may be used, as well as providing a continuing education context for alumni in areas where an institution may not provide courses. P2PU may also provide a slightly more structured context than is offered by the uncourse/learning journey model for the developmental testing of formal course materials as they are being developed for fully fledged distance online courses.

What’s in it for folk offering online courses?
An obvious argument against the above approach is that folk running courses may get upset that someone else if offering (for a fee) accreditation around their course materials. (I always thought non-commercial could be a Bad Thing ;-) However, a couple of benefits come to mind.

Firstly, the institution offering the accreditation may pay to advertise on the site offering the course. (Yes, I know this might seem as if it’s a way for an institution to essentially outsource its course production and delivery, and in a way it is… But if open courses take off, and if they offer educational benefit, and if there’s value in proving to someone else you have taken an open course, and if HEIs don’t start offering certification around open courses, then someone else will. Such as an organisation like Pearson…

Secondly, by accepting that participation in a course can be used as partial fulfillment of requirements for the receipt of formal academic credit, it reflects back some of the authority of the award offering body on the course, showing that the course has something of educational value to offer.

Isn’t the Audience Limited?
Open educational courses aren’t for everyone; they require some element of motivation on the part of the learner, they are often best followed in a social way. At times they may lack structure, and instead focus on resource investigation activities, which can be hard for learners who prefer very heavily structured courses with linear narratives and “teacher” leading from the front. But if you want to develop skills and a model of learning that helps you exploit the power of the web, then open courses may help you on your way…

Conclusion
Err, that’s it… ;-)

Related: Massive Open Online Courses – All You Need to Know…

Opening Up Digital Planet…

The second in the OU’s co-produced season of programmes with the BBC World Service Digital Planet radio programme is now available on the Digital Planet podcast feed, this week covering the topic of “Ownership and Openness” and featuring OU Senior Lecturer (and intellectual property geek;-) Ray Corrigan.

In the spirit of openness, wherever possible we’re trying to open up access to full length versions of the interviews used in the programme on the OpenLearn website. So for example, if you want to hear fuller length interviews recorded from Brazil’s Campus Party, as covered in the opening episode of the openness series, you can find them here: Campus Party Brasil 2011 – The Digital Planet Interviews.

Interviewees include Jon “Maddog” Hall on Free as in Freedom, not as in price and Sir Tim Berners Lee on net neutrality, opening up data, why open data is important and on WIkileaks.

The OpenLearn site also hosts a recording of Al Gore’s Campus Party 2011 Keynote which I don’t think received an airing on either Digital Planet, or Digital Planet’s sister World Service TV programme, Click?

And as if that’s not enough, the audio clips have been made available as MP3 files, which means you can download them to your own device, or embed them in your own web pages… Like this:

Sir Tim Berners Lee on why open data is important:

If you can think of any other ways we can open up the programmes, please let us know:-)

To keep up-to-date with the OU Digital Planet extras, keep your eye on the OpenLearn Digital Planet profile page, or even better, subscribe to the OpenLearn/Digital Planet RSS feed:-)

Educative Media?

Another interesting looking job ad from the OU, this time for a Web Assistant Producer with Open Learn (Explore) in the OBU (Open Broadcasting Unit).

Here’s how it reads:

Earlier this year the OU launched an updated public facing, topical news and media driven site. The site bridges the gap between BBC TV viewing and OU services and functions as the new ‘front door’ to Open Learn and all of the Open University’s open, public content. We are looking for a Web Assistant Producer with web production/editing skills.

You will work closely with a Producer, 2 Web Assistant Producers, the Head of Online Commissioning and many others in the Open University, as well as the BBC.

You need to demonstrate a real interest in finding and building links between popular media/news stories, OU curriculum content, research and more. You must have experience of producing online educational material including: Researching online content, writing articles; sourcing images or other assets and/or placing and managing content text, FLASH and video/audio content within a Content Management System.

(I have to say, I’m quite tempted by the idea of this role…)

One of the things I wonder about is the extent to which “news” editorial guidelines will apply? When the OU ran the Open2.net website (now replaced by the revamped OpenLearn) content was nominally managed under BBC editorial guidelines, though I have to say I never read them… Nor did I realise how comprehensive they appear to be: BBC Editorial Guidelines. (Does the OU have an equivalent for teaching materials, I wonder?!)

As a publisher of informal, academic educational content, to what extent might editorial guidelines originating from a news and public service broadcaster be appropriate, and in what ways, if any, might they be inappropriate? (I think I need to try out a mapping from the BBC guidelines into an educational/educative context, if one hasn’t been done already…?)

Anyway, for a long time I’ve thought that we could be trying to make increased mileage of news stories in terms of providing deeper analysis and wider contextualisation/explanation that the news media can offer. (In this respect, I just spotted something – now a couple of days old: oops! – in my mailbox along exactly these lines. I’m working towards inbox zero and a shift to a new email client in the new year, so fingers crossed visiting my email inbox won’t be so offputting in future!) So it’s great to see that the new OpenLearn appears to be developing along exactly those lines.

A complementary thing (at least in the secondary sense of OpenLearn as open courseware and open educational resources) is to find a way of accrediting folk who have participated in open online courses and who want to be accredited against that participation in some way … and it just so happens that’s something I’m working on at the moment and hoping to pitch within the OU in the new year…

PS in passing, as the HE funding debate and demos rage on, anyone else think the OU should be license fee funded as a public service educator?!;-)

Open Educational Resources and the University Library Website

Being a Bear of Very Little Brain, I find it convenient to think of the users of academic library websites falling into one of three ‘deliberate’ and one ‘by chance’ categories:

– students (i.e. people taking at course);
– lecturers (i.e. people creating or supporting a course);
– researchers;
– folk off the web (i.e. people who Googled in who are none of the above).

The following Library website homepage (in this case, from Leicester) is typical:

…and the following options on the Library catalogue are also typical:

So what’s missing…?

How about a link to “Teaching materials”, or “open educational resources”?

After all, if you’re a lecturer looking to pull a new course together, or a student who’s struggling to make head or tail of the way one of your particular lecturers is approaching a particular topic, or a researcher who needs a crash course in a particular method or technique, maybe some lecture notes or course materials are exactly the sort of resource you need?

Trying to kickstart the uptake of open educational materials has not be as easy as might be imagined (e.g. On the Lack of Reuse of OER), but maybe this is because OERs aren’t as ‘legitimately discoverable’ as other academic resources.

If anyone using an academic library website can’t easily search educational resources in that context, what does that say about the status of those resources in the eyes of the Library?

Bearing in mind my crude list of user classes, and comparing them to the sorts of resources that academic libraries do try to support the discovery of, what do we find?

– the library catalogue returns information about books (though full text search is not available) and the titles of journals; it might also tap into course reading lists.
– the e-resources search provides full text search over e-book and journal content.

One of the nice features of the OU wesbite search (not working for me at the moment: “Our servers are busy”, apparently…) is that it is possible to search OU course materials for the course you are currently on (if you’re a student) or across all courses if you are staff. A search over OpenLearn materials is also provided. However, I don’t think these course material searches are available from the Library website?

So here’s a suggestion for the #UKOER folk – see if you can persuade your library to start offering a search over OERs from their website (Scott Wilson at CETIS is building an OER aggregator that might help in this respect, and there are also initiativs like OER Commons).

And, err, as a tip: when they say they already do, a link to the OER Commons site on a page full of links to random resources, buried someowhre deep within the browsable bowels of the library website doesn’t count. It has to be at least as obvious(?!), easy to use(?!) and prominent(?!?) as the current Library catalogue and journal/database searches…

PDFs Do Your Licensing For You…

PDF is not a portable DATA format

That is:

PDF, a digital form used to represent electronic documents, allows users to exchange and view the documents easily and reliably, independent of the environments in which they are created, viewed and printed, while preserving their content and visual appearance. [PDF Format Becomes ISO Standard]

no derivs No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

Open University Podcasts on Your TV – Boxee App

Over the weekend, a submission went in from The Open University (in particular, from Liam GreenHughes (dev) and some of the OU Comms team Dave Winter in Online Services (design)), to the Boxee application competition (UK’s Open University on boxee).

For those of you who haven’t com across Boxee, it’s an easy to use video on demand aggregator that turns your computer into a video appliance and lets you watch video content from a wide range of providers (including BBC iPlayer) on your TV. Liam’s been evangelising it for some time, as well as exploring how to get OU Podcasts into it via RSS’n’OPML feeds (An OU Podcast RSS feed for Boxee).

(For those of you who prefer to just stick with the Beeb, then the BBC iPlayer big screen version provides an interface optimised for use on your telly.)

As well as channeling online video services, and allowing users to wire in their own video and audio content via a feed feed, Boxee also provides a plugin architecture for adding additional services to your Boxee setup. The recent Boxee competition promoted this facility by encouraging developers to create new applications for it.

So what does the OU Podcasts Boxee app over and above a simple subscription to an OU podcasts feed?

A pleasing, branded experience, that’s what.

So for example, on installing the OU podcasts app (available from the Boxee App Box), an icon for it is added to your Internet Services applications.

Launching the application takes you to an OU podcasts browser that is organised along similar lines to the OU’s Youtube presence, that is, in terms of OU Learn, OU Research and OU Life content. The Featured content area also provides a mechanism for pushing editorially selected content to higher prominence. (Should this be the left-most, default option, I wonder, rather than the OU Learn channel?)

In the Research area, a single level of navigation exists, listing the various episodes available:

OU Boxee app

Th more comprehensive Learn area organises content into topic basic based themes/episode collections (listed in the right hand panel) with the episodes associated with a particular selected theme or collection displayed in the left hand panel. Selecting an episode in the left hand panel then reveals its description in the right hand panel (as in the screenshot above).

So for example, when we go to the OU Learn area, the Arts and Humanities episodes are listed in the left hand area (by default), and available collections in the right.

We can scroll down the collections and select one, Engineering for example:

Episodes in this collection are listed in the left hand panel, and further subcollections in the right hand panel (it all seems a little confusing to describe, but it actually seems to work okay… maybe?!;-)

Highlighting an actual episode then displays a description of it.

Selecting a program to play pops up a confirmation “play this” overlay, along with a link to further information for the episode:

Both audio and video content can be channeled to the service – selecting a video programme provides a full screen view of the episode, whilst audio is played within a player

The “Read More” option provides a description of the episode, as well as social rating and recommendation options:

Finally, a search tool allows for content to be discovered using user selected search terms,

If you search with an OU course code, and there is video on the OU podcasts site from the course, the search may turn that course related video up…

This wouldn’t be a OUseful post if I didn’t add my own 2p’s worth, of course, so what else would I have liked to have seen in this app. One thing that comes to mind is a seven day catch-up of OU co-pro content that has been broadcast on the BBC (or more generally, the ability to watch all OU co-pro content that is currntly available on the BBC iPlayer). I developed a proof-of-concept demonstrator of how such a service might work on the web, or for the iPhone/iPod Touch (iPhone 7 Day OU Programme CatchUp, via BBC iPlayer), so under the assumption that the Boxee API can provide the hooks you need to be able to play iPlayer content, I’d guess adding this sort of functionality shouldn’t take Liam much more than half-an-hour?!;-)

I also wonder if the application can be used to preserve local state in the form of personalisation information? For example, could a user create their own saved searches – and by default their own topic themed channels? Items in such a feed could also be nominally tagged with that search term back on a central server, if, for example, if a user watched an episode that had been retrieved using a particular search term all the way through?

To vote for the OU Boxee app, please go to: vote for your favorite apps, RSVP for the boxee event in SF.

PS the OU Podcasts app is not the only education related submission to the competition. There’s also OpenCourseWare on boxee, which porvides a single point of entry to several video collections from some of the major US OCW projects.

PPS it also turns out that KMi have a developer who’s currently working on a range of mobile apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch, Android phones and so on. If any OU readers have ideas for compelling OU related mobile apps, you just may get lucky in getting it built, so post the idea as a comment to this post, or contact, err, erm, @stuartbrown, maybe?

PPPS Now I’m not sure how much time was spent on the app, but as the competition was only launched on May 5th, with a closing date of June 14th, it can’t have been that long, putting things like even the JISC Rapid Innovation (JISCRI) process to shame…?!;-)