Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations/Educational Development
In this chapter is outlined a model for educational development, largely based on Otago Polytechnic's pioneering work in the period 2006-2009. In that time, Otago adopted a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license default, and supported staff using popular media sharing and communication services such as Wikipedia, Wikiversity and Youtube to develop open educational practices and publish open educational resources.
Otago's Educational Development Centre
In 2006, Otago Polytechnic established an Educational Development Centre (EDC) for staff development, curriculum development, online and flexible learning development, and research into educational development. This was an extension of a smaller staff development unit set up in the years prior. By mid 2006, the polytechnic established a contestable fund for departments and staff to apply for assistance in developing flexible teaching and assessment practices in their courses. This fund was called the Flexible Learning Development Fund and was mediated by EDC. By the end of 2006, three EDC Programme Developers were project managing around 20 courses and educational development projects initiated by staff through the fund, as well as through research grants.
Throughout 2006, staff in EDC were researching open educational resources and practices using social media, and recommended that Otago Polytechnic position itself through such practices, using open education and social media in flexible learning training and development projects. Ad-hoc workshops in blogging, tagging, RSS and wiki editing saw a number of staff start to adopt the techniques and join discussions on their use in education. At the same time, EDC was running a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching qualification, as part of an Otago Polytechnic-wide initiative to train all teaching staff to a high level of teaching qualification. Several staff who were teaching courses in the program started experimenting with the use of social media, and developed open and flexible learning and assessment methods through the use of such media. Some of these models are outlined in this chapter.
In 2007 and 2008, EDC staff assisted Otago Polytechnic executive in the development of an intellectual property policy that maintained ownership with creators, but encouraging those owners to adopt open educational practices by using a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license, and publishing and distributing information through social media channels, with Wikieducator as a primary developmental space.. Notable also in Otago Polytechnic's approach to IP was the autonomous position held by local Māori iwi (tribe) Ngāi Tahu. In 2008, Otago Polytechnic signed the Cape Town Declaration, ceremoniously cementing Otago Polytechnic's commitment to open education. More information on the intellectual property policy, and is later adoption by staff at the University of Canberra, can be found in the chapter on Intellectual Property. And there is a chapter with more information on the signing of the Cape Town Declaration.
In 2008 and 2009 EDC staff started evaluating the impact that this early adoption of open educational practices was having in the organisation, using small research grants from a New Zealand national funding agency - AKO Aoteraroa. This book is one of the outcomes of that evaluation.
Blogging professional development: An Otago Polytechnic experience
Through 2006 and 2007, EDC ran a range of professional development activities for staff, including two courses which used social media to encourage networking: Flexible Learning (which was part of the Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching), and Facilitating Online Communities (which was part of the Graduate Certificate in Applied eLearning). These courses, along with numerous informal workshops and professional networks, helped to develop critical digital and network literacy, particularly social media, as well as increased general awareness among staff of popular Internet-based resources and networked learning.
During this period, there were a handful of Polytechnic staff actively documenting their work and progress on individual weblogs. By subscribing to the RSS feeds from these blogs EDC was able to monitor and assess the experiments, ideas and methods, issues and concerns, and of course the development of digital literacy and networked communication skills. They could also observe the progress of specific projects, and in some instances, notes on professional development courses that staff kept on their weblogs. With this level of access to staff work, EDC could enter into discussions, offer support and advice, and point to examples when needed. Likewise, staff could monitor each other's work, and over time, reflect back on their own. The objective was to establish a network of professional learning through weblogs and other platforms. By comparison, obtaining this level of access and insight through traditional communication channels (such as face-to-face meetings, email or formal reporting) was not only inefficient, it lacked accurate primary or authentic source, or opportunities for wider consultation.
However, the number of Polytechnic staff engaging in this practice was extremely small. The benefits and barriers of staff blogging needs to be carefully analysed to more fully understand the implications of things like organisational power dynamics and other issues that might impact on the development of a successful network of professional learning. It might perhaps be an overly simplistic idea, but it is as yet untested, and that is to offer incentives in the form of recognition and reward for staff who document their work on professional weblogs. More on this in the chapter on Recommendations.
Primarily, the use of weblogs (blogs) at Otago Polytechnic was encouraged by EDC staff as a simple device for developing digital literacy and critical awareness of online networking and communications. Staff were supported where possible to use a blog to document projects and professional development, with a view that the regularity of writing online would inevitably lead people to use hypertext referencing, optimised and embedded media, widgets] and style sheets, and to add or create their own media. This was expected to not only help staff develop digital literacy, but also to assist them in gaining independent online communication skills, and critical awareness of what it meant to have a professional presence within a network of professional learning, online.
In terms of networking through blogs, on a local scale it was observable - in those who were blogging and using an RSS reader to track other's blogs - that there was a gradual increase in awareness of what people were doing, the advances they were making, and the issues they were facing, and that local connections were developing online and helping to support informal learning and development in the organisation - including attendance at face to face meetings and events. Over time it was hoped that this local awareness and communication would strengthen and extend more into a national and international networks. Such connection was observed in at least two staff members from Otago's Midwifery Department. Sarah Stewart established her blog into an international learning network, peaking with the coordination of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife.. And Caorlyn McIntosh is now referred to as a top-20 midwifery blogger internationally.
While this activity, at the small scale it developed to, indicated that professional weblogging did help to improve professional engagement, digital literacy and critical awareness, the larger goal was to transfer these skills and awareness into open educational practices and improve services to potential and existing students. Extended thinking around this vision is expressed further in the Models of Open Education chapter.
The importance of copyright, from an organisation's perspective
Toward the end of 2006, the creation of new educational content began in the Flexible Learning Development projects of Otago Polytechnic. It was apparent that many people who were involved in the projects did not have an understanding of copyright, specifically content with copyrights that permitted reuse. Nor did many have experience in producing media other than text documents and slide presentations. Work began to try and build skills in locating free and reusable content, and compiling new content and distributing it through popular media sharing sites.
This consequently highlighted the need to change the organisation's Intellectual Property (IP) policy so as to enable the legitimate reuse of open educational resources. Also apparent was the need to establish new librarian services to help with the sourcing of free content, and an alignment of media production teams such as in the Marketing department, to assist with production and distribution. Otago Polytechnic has not been able to establish these levels of support. More about this concept is detailed in the Recommendations chapter, and a response from executive as to why the suggested support was not established is found in the Responses chapter.
By mid 2007, a new IP policy was agreed on, acknowledging that staff and students were entitled to have individual ownership over their IP, and encouraging the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license as the preferred copyright statement on works published through the Polytechnic. Individual owners of IP who wished to publish with restrictions beyond attribution were required to notify the Polytechnic so that an appropriate restrictive statement could be added. In short, the All Rights Reserved default for content created at Otago Polytechnic was replaced by a Some Rights Reserved - Attribution default with an optional process for individuals to further restrict rights. This was a simple inversion to what was common in most other educational institutions at the time.
The IP policy was seen as a mechanism in Otago Polytechnic for dispelling staff uncertainties about engaging with the wider Internet, and was used to reinforce the effort to encourage publishing in blogs and other media sharing services; as well as to contribute to international wiki projects like Wikipedia, individually and/or in the name of the polytechnic. Such activity was seen to be beneficial to the Polytechnic, on the basis of the policy attracting wide recognition for its progressiveness, and for encouraging more widely distributed content referring to the Polytechnic and the courses and services it offered.
At the time, an issue was raised however, with suggestions to use copyright restrictions beyond Attribution, such as Share Alike - or similar copyleft mechanisms such as GPL (General Public Licence) which require derivatives to use the same or equal license as the Share Alike restricted license. The problem was that if a staff member sampled and remixed a work with such a license, the derivative work would them have to carry the same license and that might have been not always possible, such as when mixed with sensitive cultural content, commercial content, or other such content that required restriction, or when working with people who were not comfortable with releasing copyrights. For this reason, for simplicity and to ensure maximum flexibility in the use of resources, it was decided to endorse the Creative Commons Attribution license as the default copyright license used.
Working with Wikis
In mid 2007, following the agreement for a new IP policy, some of the educational development projects of Otago Polytechnic began using wikis to develop educational resources. These included Wikispaces, Wikiversity and Wikieducator. Early work with Wikispaces indicated a risk of platform lock-in and a lack of quality control with regards to copyright diligence. This led to a focus on Wikiversity. A combination of concerns however, led to a decision to suspend work on Wikiversity, and use Wikieducator. There were three reasons for this decision. Firstly, at the time (but no longer) a minority of members in Wikiversity's user community expressed concerns on the appropriate use of the platform by educational organisations. Secondly, some departments within the Polytechnic had concerns over the use of platforms outside the control of the Polytechnic (concerns that were later dispelled). And thirdly, a lobby from The Commonwealth of Learning to adopt their Wikieducator platform, along with offers of support in training and policy development.
At the time, there were at least 15 full time Otago Polytechnic lecturing staff, and five part time designers regularly using the WikiEducator platform to develop their courses. Others developed textbooks on Wikibooks, some moved back into Wikiversity and many were referring to Wikipedia for information and resources in their teaching and study. This number was expected to increase when the teacher training schedules used by Otago Polytechnic started to include orientation and skills development in the use of wikis.
Benefits of using wikis
- Free content hosting;
- Free and supported access to MediaWiki software;
- Exposure, promotion and networking with other educational organisations;
- Internationalisation and dialogue with others interested in educational development;
- Collaborative development opportunities and resource sharing;
- Open access to learning resources;
- Staff development of MediaWiki editing skills that are transferable to more popular MediaWiki based projects like Wikipedia.
Through developing curriculum and content on Wikieducator and Wikiversity, Otago Polytechnic staff discovered there were opportunities for local collaboration, and ironically, they did this before realising the benefits of international collaboration. This occurred because of the open nature of the development, enabling local staff to discover each others work, and as a result they contacted colleagues to discuss collaboration. It was also easier for the educational developers who were working with staff to refer them to the open resources which were being developed, and in this way collaborations were facilitated. In contrast, the teachers working in the closed environment of the Learning Management System (LMS) that was being used at the time, were unaware whether there was similar content being developed elsewhere on that platform, or were developing in such a way that made it very difficult to collaborate and reuse resources in other areas. Furthermore, they could not benefit from the volunteer support that the wikis came with, who checked copyright diligence, and assisted with layout and copy editing.
Because of their open and accessible nature, and tendency to attract volunteers by virtue of the cause of open education, development in wiki environments found efficiency gains in things like quality control such as copyright, copy editing, linking and layout assistance. The wiki projects required all content to be cleared of restrictive copyrights. This discipline of diligence has resulted in the production of works that are very flexible and reusable. Conversely, the closed development environment of the LMS has traditionally enabled very little quality control on copyright, and therefore, a large amount of restricted content was being used, which ultimately limited the flexibility and reusability of resources, and led to the payment of royalty fees to gathering agencies. In this sense, development on wikis is arguably more efficient and financially and socially sustainable, achieving more with the allocated investments.
Risks and foreseeable issues
A focus on blogging as a method of professional development, communication and organisational knowledge management risks segmenting communications further in the organisation, between those who rely on word of mouth, email, meetings, and those who come to rely on online networks. In the Otago Polytechnic experience, while several staff took up the use of blogging, using it as a form of communication with colleagues, the approach remained foreign and new to the majority of staff at the Polytechnic. Most people could not see the value to them personally or professionally, or how they may begin to develop strategies to manage the time it takes for reading and/or writing weblogs. It is reasonable to expect that the majority of staff will not want to keep a weblog, or will not actively monitor the blogging efforts of their colleagues. While there are demonstrated benefits to those that do, a communication disconnect may emerge between those that do and those that do not. This could prove counter productive to the organisation as a whole.
While it is logical to compare this development to that of the uptake of email some 15 years ago, blogging has many obvious differences to email. For example, a weblog is owned by the individual, and becomes their personalised online space, enabling a unique online presence and identity to develop. Staff can use this presence to promote themselves professionally, and to become a player in socially networked communities. If disconnection is to be avoided amongst staff, the Polytechnic will need to continue thinking about and developing communication strategies that are effective and useful to all staff, and carefully consider ways to scale the benefits of blog reading and writing. One way of doing this is to use strategies which model more open and collaborative communication. One suggestion, aimed at bridging different communication channels and preferences, and to facilitate their reach to a wider range of readers, includes the use of an organisational blog, and a blog for each service area or department. For example, a blog could be used in addition to email and static web page broadcasts for the following:
- public press releases;
- staff updates;
- meeting minutes;
- service area and departmental updates.
Staff may consider the use of a blog as time consuming, however, there are methods with which these additional communication channels can be integrated without double-handling the message, e.g., automatic forwarding to email from each blog post. The practice can be time saving and facilitate more effective communication and collaboration. For example if meeting minutes are compiled on a wiki or a Google document, any staff member involved in the meeting can contribute to the minutes, therefore, the information is much more accessible than archived text documents, and probably more accurate and current.
The leadership of EDC staff, in the use of social media, occurred without close and regular consultation with other service providers in the Polytechnic, for example, Information Technology, web publishing, marketing, or human resources. While this enabled rapid development, it posed a significant risk to all those providers; any aspect could have proved counter productive to their briefs. The solution relates in part to the need for a better communication strategy, and active leadership within and across the service providers.
The development of digital information skills and capability, in both staff and students, is critical for participation in digital educational environments especially those which use open education resources (Hegarty, Penman, Kelly, Jeffrey, Coburn & McDonald, 2010). These researchers recommend that the provision of learning programmes for the development of digital information literacy must: "Have personal relevance for individuals and be integrated into everyday, work and study contexts", and "Allow learners the opportunity to ‘play’ and engage in supported exploration, as well as exposing them to new tools and strategies for organising a digital PLE or presence in a networked environment (Web 2.0)". For this to occur, the "Infrastructure at tertiary education institutions should be continually reviewed, in order to capitalise on the benefits of consistent access for staff and students to the latest web technologies, while recognising the ongoing need for security."
Organisations which do not provide environments and conditions conducive to developing capability in using and managing digital information are at risk of falling behind in meeting the requirements of the New Zealand Digital Strategy (Ministry of Economic Development, 2008) for connectivity, connectivity, capability, confidence and increased digital content (Hegarty et al., 2010).
Otago Polytechnic has taken rapid and significant steps in the direction of open educational resources and practices. In the space of less than two years it has positioned itself as a leader in New Zealand, by being the first educational organisation to develop and adopt an intellectual policy that encourages the use of Creative Commons licensing. The willingness of academic staff to experiment with open education and social media, and support for this by managers, has contributed to the development of OER policies and practices. So far the Polytechnic has chosen not to duplicate the features of popular media services, e.g., Youtube, 'in house' and is seeking to maximise the benefits of using external services. In so doing, the Polytechnic is developing a strong and distributed online presence. Additionally, staff are developing important literacies, transferable skills, and critical awareness of online communications, relevant to life outside the Polytechnic, and more generally to the Otago community. The speed at which this change has taken effect in the Polytechnic has left some service areas unprepared, and is having both positive and negative effects on internal communication. So far the benefits are outweighing the disadvantages, and through continued staff development activities Otago Polytechnic expects these disadvantages will diminish.
Hegarty, B., Penman, M., Kelly, O., Jeffrey, L., Coburn, D. & McDonald, J. (2010). Digital Information Literacy: Supported Development of Capability in Tertiary Environments. New Zealand: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/tertiary_education/80624
Ministry of Economic Development. (2008). Digital Strategy 2.0. Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/Digital-Strategy-2/
Otago Polytechnic (2010). The pathway to great. 2010 Annual report. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Polytechnic. Retrieved from http://www.otagopolytechnic.ac.nz/fileadmin/DepartmentalResources/Marketing/PDFs/OP_Annual_Report_2010_WEB.pdf