eSTeEM Conference Presentation – Making More of Structured Course Materials

A copy of the presentation I gave at the OU-eSTeEM conference (no event URL?) on generating custom course search engines and mining OU XML documents to generate course mindmaps (Making More of Structured Documents presentation; delicious stack/bookmark list of related resources):

Chatting to Jonathan Fine after the event, he gave me the phrase secondary products to describe things like course mindmaps that can be generated from XML source files of OU course materials. From what I can tell, there isn’t much if any work going on in the way of finding novel ways of exploiting the structure of OU structured course materials, other than using them simply as a way of generating different presentational views of the course materials as a whole (that is, HTML versions, maybe mobile friendly versions, PDF versions). (If that’s not the case, please feel free to put me right in the comments:-)

One thing Jonathan has been scouring the documents for is evidence of mathematical content across the courses; he also mentioned a couple of ideas relating to access audits over the content itself, such as extracting figure headings, or image captions. (This reminded me of the OpenLearn XML processor (and redux) I first played with 4 years ago (sigh… and nothing’s changed… sigh….), which stripped assets by type from the first generation of OU XML docs). So on my to do list is to have a deeper look at the structure of OU XML, have a peek at what sorts of things might meaningfully (and easily;-) extracted, and figure out two or three secondary products that can be generated as a result. Note that these products might be products for different audiences, at different times of the course lifecycle: tools for use by course team or LTS during production (such as accessibility checks), products to support maintenance (there is already a link checker, but maybe there is more that can be done here?), products for students (such as the mindmap), products for alumni, products for OpenLearn views over the content, products to support “learning analytics”, and so on. (If you have any ideas of what forms the secondary products might take, or what structures/elements/entities you’d like to see mined from OU XML, please let me know via the comments. For an example of an OU XML doc, see here.

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 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).

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 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 [ ] 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 ( ) 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 [ ]

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 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.

News, Analysis, Academia and Demand Education

Some threads that I can see tangling:

  • as Google starts to fight back against content farms such as Demand Media (e.g. New York Times on Google’s War on Nonsense), the Digger seems keen to get into education: Murdoch signals push into education;
  • for a long time I’ve imagined some sort of sensemaking spectrum that leads from news stories, through analysis and feature articles, to a more academic take on subject (if I can get my act together, I’d like to try to pull a workshop together in the Autumn between media and education folk to look at this…); I’m not necessarily suggesting a bigger role for “celebrity academics”, more a consideration of how academics can make content available to the media to add depth and deepened engagement to a story, and how the media can provide timeliness and news hooks to education as a way of adding contextual relevance. Here are two short (2 minute) takes on it, one from Martin Bean, the OU VC, in hist ALT-C 2010 keynote, and the other from Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, on the Radio 4 Media Show:
  • the OU starts a new sort of campaign: Youtube learning campaigns, such as this one on The History of English

So where’s all this going? And what role might openly licensed content created by academics as part of their daily duties have to play in it?

Open Book Talk

“A booktalk in the broadest terms is what is spoken with the intent to convince someone to read a book.” Wikipedia

Whilst putting together yesterday’s post about personal art collections online (for a wider take on this, see Mia Ridge’s The rise of the non-museum (and death by aggregation), which offers all manner of food for thought around personal collection building…), I started thinking again about how we might use recorded discussions or book talks focussing on particular books as a component in the “content scaffolding” around works that might be used as resources in an informal learning context.

(For an earlier foray in to the book talk world, see my post on BBC “In Our Time” Reading List using Linked Data.)

So the (really simple and obvious) idea is this (and I fully appreciate other sites out there may already exist that do this: if so, please let me know in the comments): how about we build a lookup service that allows you to search by author, book title, ISBN (or cross ISBN), and it returns details for the book as well as links to audio or video recordings of book talks around the book.

I’ve started trying to cobble together a few resources around this, setting up (a not yet complete set of) scrapers (in various states of disrepair) on Scraperwiki to collate books and book talk audio links from:

It might also be appropriate to try to pull in “quality” book reviews* to annotate book listings, given that part of my idea at least is to find ways of enriching reading book references with discussion around them that can help folk make sense of the big ideas contained within the book, as well as maybe encouraging them to buy the book (the all required sustainability model: in this case, Amazon referral fees! Note that several of the sites use Amazon referrals as part of their own sustainability model. So it would only be fair to use their affiliate codes at least part of the time if their playable audio content was embedded on the site (even if that content is openly licensed… Share and share alike, right?! That is, trickle back a portion of any income you do make off the work of others, even if it is openly licensed for commercial use;-)

Another strand to all of this, of course, is sensemaking annotations around books pulled from “OERs” (what is is about education that makes the sector want its content to be somehow regarded as “special” and deserving of all sorts of qualification?!;-)

*Maybe the Guardian Platform API or one of the New York Times APIs could play a role here?

So, as ever, I’ve made a start, and as ever, that’ll probably be the end of it…. Sigh… Nice thought while it lasted though…

PS if I were to do next steps, it would probably to take the scraped data and try to normalise it in some ad hoc way in a triple store, maybe on the Talis platform? Note that in the current incarnation, some of the scraped BBC data contains multiple book references in a single record, and thise should be spearated out; also note that a lot of book references are informal (author/title), though I did manage to grab ISBNs (I think?!) from the IT COnversations/Tech Nation pages.

PPS In passing, I note that some of the older archived episodes of A Good Read have been split into chapters covering the different books reviewed in the programme? Was this some sort of experimental enrichment, or just the start of a more general roll out of chapterisation…?

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 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…

Err, that’s it… ;-)

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

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 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 Courses: About 10 Weeks Seems To Be It, Then?

Consternation on the twittertubes this morning about Wolverhampton’s i-CD: Intelligent Career Development, which seeks to offer “a completely new approach to higher education”:

Historically, people have either gone to university or, more recently, universities have tried to come to them. That is to say, they have opened themselves to part-time students in the evenings or projected learning materials via distance learning or tailored their programmes to employers’ needs. However, they have never previously attempted to do all these things in a single programme. Via i-CD, the University of Wolverhampton is for the first time providing low-cost, flexibly-delivered, workplace-based, market-driven, fully-accredited, higher education.

(Err… I think the OU does that actually, through work based learning, an increasing number of vendor qualifications from Cisco and Microsoft that also provide academic credit, sector based courses and qualifications, and so on… All part-time, at a distance, with support (and online community), and some of them in the workplace too.)

So for example, I think @dkernohan sees parts of his nightmare vision coming true?

What struck me is that the Wolverhampton offering is being built around 10 week courses, the same length as the OU short courses (which in the OU case result in 10 CAT points of academic credit, corresponding to a nominal 10 hours study a week).

Also coming in at 10 weeks is the currently running PLENK2010 Massive Online Open Course (hmm.. does that URL scale for other courses?), and close behind, at 12 weeks, the forthcoming openEd 2.0 course on “Business and management competencies in a Web 2.0 world”:

a FREE/OPEN course targeting business students and practitioners alike. The course consists of two strands: an academic and a professional practice based strand, though both strands can be taken together. Furthermore, the openEd 2.0 course is MODULAR, thus learners can also “pick” the individual modules they are interested at.

OpenEd course

Whilst I’m encouraged to see the rise of open courses (and there’s an increasing number of them: for example, P2PU are currently running a course on Open Journalism on the Open Web, I do think the OU is maybe missing a trick, and not leading the way in terms of innovating around open online courses…

…becuase the OU has being doing online education for years. Our first fully online course (T171, as authored by Martin Weller and John Naughton, amongst others) first presented in 1999 (I think), with thousands of students per presentation. The current Royal Photographic Society (RPS) recognised short course on Digital Photography regularly pulls in large numbers of students (in the OU, courses with less than 250 students are small…) and the new CompTIA approved Linux course is already a middle sized course… (Notice anything about those courses…? Recognition from outside academia too…)

So why isn’t the OU experimenting with running massive open online courses, with an option to “upsell” accreditation to students who want the formal academic credit? Maybe providing the support typically offered to students taking OU courses wouldn’t be cost-effective in an open course, although the wholly online short courses at least have already foregone personal tutor support. Expecting forum moderators to act as sales reps for accreditation is maybe not the sort of support we’d like to see being offered…?!

I’ve mentioned before that open educational resources might benefit from being created in public, possibly in an open course setting… SO maybe the time is now right to start trialing open courses (uncourses?;-), maybe informed by requests from (potential) students about the courses they’d like to see, creating the materials in near real-time (and drawing on other open resources, “educational” and otherwise) for the open presentation, then providing students who want to gain formal credit with some sort of assessment and accreditation?

How might this formal recognition be achieved?

– possibly via a semi-formal OU certificate that can be formally recognised through a credit transfer route?
– maybe using variant of the Career development and employability course container that lets students “use [their] workplace as a context for learning, and develop [their] ability to apply [their] learning to improve [their] practice at work”)?
– or how about the Make your experience count course container, which “gives you the opportunity to gain 30 credit points towards higher education qualifications by drawing on your past learning experiences”?

With a little bit of wit and imagination, I’m sure we could wither finesse one of our current “prior experience” courses to support the award of credit to open online courses, or come up with a new 10 point container: Open Education Course Credit

PS Hmmm, as an experiment, I wonder what would happen if someone who had taken an open online course tried to get it accepted “in partial fulfilment” of one of the accreditation of prior experience containers mentioned above? If you try it, let me know how you get on…;-)

Why Should Academics Develop Their Course Materials in Public…?

Before you say “we/they shouldn’t”:

– why do we encourage students to keep a learning journal/diary?
– why do we encourage students to participate in online forums, or ask questions if they’re having trouble understanding an issue?
– why do we try to get them to reflect on their work in public (which includes the submission of assessment material…?)

If we want students to learn, and if we want students to graduate with experience of, and knowledge of how to, learn in a self-directed way, in an environment where information is abundant, we should be showing them how we learn too… which means developing our course materials, and demonstrating how we sometimes struggle with the best way of expressing an idea, or discovering and making sense of third party resources, in an environment where they (and everybody else) can learn from us… like the commons…

’nuff said…

Except, see also: Brian Lamb on Modern scholarship is a race against its own obsolescence

(Did that make sense? Maybe I shouldn’t have published that thought? Maybe it was only worth tweeting? Maybe it’s not worth sharing any of these ideas in case they’re wrong or make me out to be an idiot…? WHO CARES? First rule of blogging: no-one will ever read it. Second rule of blogging: only people who are likely to be interested in the subject of a post will do more than look at the first few words. Third rule of blogging: anyone who does read on will maybe take something from it, contribute back to it, or build on it. Or they won’t… in which case, it was all just a waste of time and incurred some sort of (lost) opportunity cost…)

[See also: Open Course Production]

PS If you’re reading this today(!?;-) then tomorrow there’s an OER event in London that I think is open to all comers? (If it isn’t, and you can do, go anyway;-) Open Educational Resources International Symposium, with opening keynote from Mary Lou Forward and closing keynote from Brian Lamb. There’s also a fringe event tonight where I sure the unmoderated free’n’open talk will happen;-) UKOER10 Fringe.

PPS to complement the above, see D’Arcy Norman’s on private “classblogs” vs. the wild, wide open, which asks: “What right do we, as educators, have to compel students to publish on the open web?”, and goes on: “I have absolutely no problem with faculty and students wanting to have private “classblogs” – if it gets them to a place where they’re able to use the blogging platform in a way that amplifies the effectiveness of their discourse, even (or especially) if the site isn’t public, then it’s absolutely worth doing.” I agree…

Education and the Real World…

Earlier today, I received something along the lines of the following request:

Can you point me to an accessible intro to open data and the implications of formats at a level appropriate to students on the level 1/first year undergrad technology course ****?

My response (flippant but not…?):

Do it for real…? TG135 Underlying data publication [draft guidance]

As an afterthought, I added a pointer to a recent blog post from Richard Wallis: One Step at a Time.

For some time, I’ve been thinking that one of the things we should be aspiring to with some of our courses is the knowledge that students will leave the course able to understand the issues (technical and otherwise) involved in relevant sections of government consultation reports related to the course study area, and maybe even comment critically back on them (this could form part of an “authentic assessment” process). I’ll post more on this (hopefully) over the next week or two…

Related: Decoding Patents – An Appropriate Context for Teaching About Technology?