Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations/Resources and Practices
The factors that define open educational resources and practices, according to the educational development work at Otago Polytechnic between 2006 and 2009, are examined here. There are variations of opinion on such definitions of open education resources and practices, so readers should not see this as the 'only way', but some of many ways. It is hoped that the information here will inspire others to try these ideas, and contribute to the gathering of evidence and stable models that support approaches to open education. The evidence and models which have been gathered are available in the Development chapter.
Introduction and background
Otago Polytechnic is a small public education and training institution in the South of New Zealand with high student participation, retention and completion rates that according to the Annual reports continue to increase each year. The institution took initial steps toward developing new approaches to open educational resources and practices in the period between 2006 - 2009. They started to develop open resources, and use socially networked information and communication techniques to publish and distribute those resources, with an eye towards an Education 3.0 future. The factors underpinning Otago Polytechnic's decision to engage in open education are many, and some of them are outlined here. The Otago Polytechnic case sets the scene for this guide, and a description and analysis of the issues and findings follows.
As of February 2011, the Wikipedia entry agrees with Jan Hylén's definition for OER as:
"digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research."
This book extends the definition into the area of practice.
In 2007, a report called: Networks, Connections and Community: Learning with Social Software, was prepared by Val Evans Consultants for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. In the report is discussed current and future uses of socially networked software in educational settings; specifically pointing out the need for open educational resources, diverse professional networks and embedded new practices.
Such material depicts a steadily increasing trend in the education sector that is by and large a response to the significant successes of social-justice driven innovations such as the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Open Source Software and related social and economic perspectives generally. The obviously disrupting force of the Internet, the vastly popular market driven self publishing platforms such as blogs, audio, video and photo sharing services - otherwise known as social media, are all inevitably impacting on institutional practices, and ultimately policy decisions. However - while the Internet inherently lends itself to openness, and to a large degree has brought about the need for more open practices in sectors that rely on information and communications technologies - things like copyright laws, incomplete or incompatible intellectual property policies, cultural sensitivities, commercial operations, and general ignorance are all issues that need to be overcome if educational institutions are to realise the benefits of open educational resources and practices.
Here, the experience of Otago Polytechnic is described to depict some of the principles and practices that can be associated with OER.
Otago Polytechnic's initial steps
In 2006, the Educational Development Centre was resourced specifically to assist the institute in developing the organisational flexible learning strategy. This included online learning, and expanded to include a range of social media and open web platforms. As a result the work of a small number of early OER adopters from a range of departments grew, and their work is documented through the Wikieducator page for Otago Polytechnic.
The Educational Development Centre led collaborative developments of open educational resources on wikis. Already established platforms, which were inviting open participation from people interested in developing educational resources, were preferred - as opposed to setting up platforms internally. At the time, in 2006 and 2007, there were two major projects attracting a large number of participants - Wikiversity (part of the Wiki Media Foundation) and Wikieducator (then set up by the Commonwealth of Learning).
- Wikiversity is a project under the Wiki Media Foundation, and as the name implies, is a space for content that focuses on education (not just higher education). The Wiki Media Foundation manages the Wikipedia project, as well as a number of others such as Wikibooks, Wikisource and Wikinews.
- Wikieducator is a very similar initiative by the Commonwealth of Learning using the same wiki platform as Wikiversity - Mediawiki. Wikieducator is now located within The Open Education Resource (OER) Foundation which was officially launched on 17 September 2009 at Otago Polytechnic.
All of these initiatives have developed into major open educational resource projects. The most notable difference to earlier Open Courseware projects, such as that of MIT, is that they use a wiki platform, which extends the principle of access to reuse and participation. Otago Polytechnic's Educational Development Centre participated in both the Wikimedia Foundation and WikiEducator projects, considered the quality of activity on each, as well as gauging the level of interest among Otago Polytechnic staff for such project spaces. Initial work on both initiatives was largely encouraging with some staff quickly recognising the benefits of open and collaborative authoring in wiki environments.
Benefits for using wikis in content development
Working on a wiki was found by academic staff to have several benefits, and they included:
- Open access to resources making them easily reusable on other platforms;
- Information which was easy to edit, making development much more participatory, rather than reliant on developers;
- Improved usability provided by a standardised interface helping to ensure a base line quality standard;
- Version control and records of edit history which were always available;
- Communication channels behind every level of content where participants could leave messages for collaborators;
- Changes to the way staff in an organisation shared content and ideas, leading to a participatory culture in open educational resource development.
As well as general benefits associated with using wiki platforms, there are specific benefits associated with using Wikiversity, Wikibooks and Wikieducator. For example, participants immediately have access to a ready made platform, and become part of a larger community of practice which is ready to assist with development, proof reading, editing and translation at no cost, plus there are opportunities for networking with an international community of practice in each topic area. The publicity for educational institutions participating in such initiatives is extended once content is open on the Internet, and this provides a broader audience. Also the use of a neutral platform that is not seen to be owned by competitors is conducive to cross institutional collaboration. Additionally the capability building of staff is more in line with contemporary developments of the Internet, that being social media and Web 2.0.
Problems with using wikis
There were some concerns associated with using wikis. For example, the control of content development is very dependent on the level of participation, and ultimately appears "messy" during the early phases of development. Sometimes subject areas are started, but not finished; and may indicate tentative testing. Although these wiki platforms provide an opportunity for educational institutions to establish a strong presence, a lack of time or commitment by editors, or no organisational support and recognition for the early adopting staff proved a detriment to some staff using the wikis. Additionally in the New Zealand education sector, wiki development processes, and the ethics associated with OER are not mainstream; and this affected the level of staff commitment, as well as funding agency recognition for using such platforms. When there is clear strategic direction in an educational organisation for OER, supported by recognition by funding bodies, this may help address some of these concerns.
The relationship between Open Education Practices and Open Education Resources
With social media and Internet derived disruptions, educational organisations need to develop capacity and critical awareness - if only to remain aware of the affordances and limitations. Working with OER can facilitate that capacity development by situating common practice into formats of digital information within socially organised media, under the principles of openness.
In general, open educational practice makes openness, community engagement, transparency, responsibility, sharing, and accountability central to educational practice. This includes but does not stop with the use of OER. It includes the production of OER, and that more transparency be developed across educational practices. Where OER focuses on content and resources, OEP represents the open practice of education. Where OER focuses largely on the questions of how resources can be made available, OEP asks the question of how openness can be practiced in an educational organisation.
OER is often a repository of itemized resources (pictures, texts, websites, videos), OEPs focus on learning and assessment activities guided and informed by openness.
A problem and its solution
A few years ago, one of the teachers at Otago Polytechnic created a slide presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint using a template. There were lots of animation features and sound effects and there were several slides. As a result, the file was very large, and was difficult to use in an online learning context. Also the images used on the slides were taken from samples from Google image search results where copyright permissions were often not clearly stated. The source for each image was not referenced, nor was there any indication of the copyright associated with the images; nor was there any record of whether permission had been given to use the images. The slide presentation file had not been updated since being created by a teacher who no longer worked at the organisation. Consequently, it was being used by new teachers who were still adjusting to teaching the topic, and were unsure of the protocols surrounding organisational resources. The new teachers came to the Educational Development Centre and asked for assistance to redevelop the resource.
This example shows clearly how a resource, which initially took a lot of time and energy to create, quickly became redundant and unusable because the appropriate steps were not taken to provide a fully accessible, re-usable and portable resource, that is, one which could be classified as an OER. As a result of this kind of situation, several changes needed to be made. There was a solution to the dilemma and the development process shown to the teachers is outlined.
Firstly, free software was used to create the presentation resource. It was important that the presentation be saved in a format that can be easily edited using freely accessible editing software, and free software generally uses open standard file formats, helping to ensure the file does not need one particular software platform to be edited. The use of open standard formats improved compatibility across a wider range of software, and increased accessibility for users who did not have access to Microsoft products.
Secondly, some strategies for sourcing free-for-reuse images and other open educational resources were demonstrated and used, and the concepts of copyright permission and licensing were explored. The presentation ended up containing quality graphs and images that explicitly permitted reuse, and the original authors of these images were referenced.
A third step was to share a range of strategies for reducing presentation file sizes, which enabled effective uses of the presentation slides in online settings. For example, the PDF process reduced the size of the file enabling it to be sent as an email attachment, or be located on a blog.
A fourth step was to show the teachers how to access and utilise Internet publishing sites such as http://slideshare.net and http://wordpress.com that offer services which take an original file, process it for efficient online viewing, publish it and manage it within social media site. Because the presentation had been authored with free software and saved to an open standard format, it was a simple step to utilise these platforms. One of the spin offs from publishing a presentation on the social media platforms was that other teachers and experts more easily discovered the presentation and made use of it in their settings, or simply offered feedback.
Lastly, the teachers learned how to subscribe to sources of educational media and to build their resource base. Ultimately, they became absorbed in the social features of the publishing platforms, and their experiences interacting with other professionals helped them in their own work. This experience was translated into assignment activities for students, where they too learned how to engage social media as open learning environments.
This example represents the experiences of some teachers at Otago Polytechnic. Tentatively a few developed the confidence to use and contribute OER to social media channels. Examples of their work are evaluated in the chapter on Development. The networking opportunities and exposure afforded through this participation propose a more sustainable practice of professional development which more directly meets specific learning needs on an ongoing and as-needed basis.
The role of the polytechnic senior management cannot be understated in importance to these initial efforts. They permitted staff to explore and publish their works, they permitted staff to work outside the learning management system, and they defended this exploration against internal critics and reactionaries. In addition, they actively researched notions of Web 2.0 and networked teaching and learning and recognised the potential benefits and wider issues. Consequently, they developed an intellectual property policy that adopted the use of a Creative Commons Attribution license as a default position, sending a clear message of encouragement to staff to adopt open practices. This simple feature within the policy enables staff to retain the ability to protect IP or restrict copying and reuse where necessary, but through an encouragement for developing open educational resources.
There are several concepts associated with the OER movement which are closely linked to the Otago Polytechnic experience, and they are outlined in the following sections.
Open Courseware and Open Educational Resources
In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began a project called MIT OpenCourseWare, with the aim being to gradually publish all educational resources and curricula with copyrights, and they made an announcement to:
- ... invite educators around the world to draw upon the materials for their own curricula, and ... encourage all learners to use the materials for self-study. We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore, the quality of life worldwide. Charles M. Vest, President, MIT, October 2002
And so began the wider use of the term Open Courseware. The vision held by MIT did eventuate with many other educational organisations announcing Open Courseware projects.
In July 2005, David Wiley developed the OpenCourseware Finder - a search engine focused specifically on finding open courseware from a number of educational institutions, and later that year the establishment of the Open Courseware Consortium - also based in Massachusetts. Currently the Consortium has over 100 educational organisations from around the world publishing open courseware.
The hugely successful Wikipedia - currently ranking in the world's top 10 websites - and easily the world's largest open educational resource had, by the time of the MIT invitation and the UNESCO announcement about OER, been operating for over 12 months. In that time, Wikipedia grew from an initial 8,000 articles in January 2001 to 88,291 articles in the English version by October 2002. Today it has 251 language editions with the English version alone containing 1,778,031 articles.
In 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation was announced as an umbrella organisation that would encompass Wikipedia and the other open and collaborative authoring initiatives such as: Wikiquote; Wikibooks (including Wikijunior); Wikisource; Wikimedia Commons; Wikispecies; Wikinews; Wikiversity; and Meta-Wiki. If these other wiki projects grow at anything like the rate at which Wikipedia is growing, the Wikimedia Foundation will easily house the world's largest reference and open educational resources.
There are several important differences between open courseware and open educational resources most clearly highlighted by a comparison between MIT OCW and Wiki Media Foundation projects. MIT's OCW comes with copyrights that restrict commercial use of their materials. It is also not simple or easy to adapt or modify MIT courseware from the place it is published, or in the formats it is published in. Open educational resources on the other hand - particularly those found on Wiki Media Foundation projects, do not restrict reuse through copyright, and the very platform used to publish and distribute these resources makes it possible for anyone to copy and adapt a resource. More simply, it is entirely possible for MIT OCW to copy and reuse anything found on WIki Media Foundation projects, but it is not possible for Wiki Media Foundation projects to copy MIT OCW content.
The concept of openness is the most important outcome to eventuate from the proliferation of open educational resources. They are resources which range from courses through to reference materials and multi media. Their openness in terms of visibility, access and initial use is obviously key, but to then give people the freedom to reuse, make derivatives from, or to redistribute the resources without restriction is critical to educational use. The copyright license that is assigned to a resource ultimately controls that use, and in some instances so does the format.
The use of the Creative Commons Attribution license enables the most flexible and open sharing and re-use of resources. Non Commercial and No Derivative restrictions limit reuse, as does Share Alike. In 2007 Otago Polytechnic adopted a default Creative Commons Attribution license, which meant that resources created by staff could be freely used, distributed and modified provided attribution was given to the original authors. This approach was largely to remove any perceptions people might have had that would have limited the sharing and collaboration around resources.
In the case of MIT's Open Courseware, the copyright license used on their resources is a Creative Commons license, with Share Alike and Non Commercial restrictions. These restrictions, in particular the Non Commercial restriction, have been criticised for the limits they place on the ability of others to remix, make improvements on, and to redistribute the resources.  How can other institutions that are partly commercial and partly restricted in their own uses of resources, utilise or participate in open educational resource projects that come with Non Commercial restrictions?
The Free Cultural Works Definition was created in an attempt to clarify copyright confusion around open educational resources, and to assist open educational projects make better choices in copyright licenses.
Learning objects, re-usability and interoperability
There are three key attributes required for an open educational resource: 1. Accessibility - ease of obtaining and using; 2. Re-usability - permissions and formats which enable others to use the resource, that is, portability; 3. Interoperability - enables exchange of information between different systems. For this to occur, the following must be considered:
- Accessibility is ensured by the prospect of open publishing. A resource that is published openly to the Internet can be considered accessible if it has meta data which evolves and updates according to its use. On the other hand, a resource that is delivered over the Internet, only accessible to those with a user name and password, and with meta data that is entered once and for various resourcing reasons, and is not maintained, eventually becomes inaccessible.
- Re-usability of an open educational resource is firstly ensured by a copyright license that uses limited, if any, restrictions, and secondly by its format. An educational resource with all copy rights reserved, and whose publisher has moved on, is rendered a difficult to use, or non re-usable resource. A resource with a Creative Commons Attribution license on the other hand will always remain a re-usable resource.
- Interoperability is one functional requirement that also affects re-usability, but is one in which neither the learning object (LO) nor the open educational resource has fully satisfied.
Open and free educational resources appear to be replacing the development and distribution of learning objects. A number of learning object projects emerged as a result of an environment where, " ...education and training markets [were] economically motivated to pursue global commerce opportunities involved in distributed learning over the Internet". As a result learning objects were developed for sharing within a philosophy of buying and selling. For example, Merlot located at California State University, and the Australian Flexible framework Toolboxes.
It is worth noting that the functional requirements of learning objects tend to make their relevance questionable:
- Accessibility: the LO should be tagged with metadata so that it can be stored and referenced in a database.
- Re-usability: once created, a LO should function in different instructional contexts, however, the more generic the LO the less useful it becomes in different contexts.
- Interoperability: the LO should be independent of both the delivery media and knowledge management systems
In contrast to open educational resources, learning object development tends to focus on the production of resources that will work in learning management systems, and thus ignores the issue of accessibility, and the usefulness of the resources if they were made available outside a learning management system. Open educational resources on the other hand are made available outside learning management systems, which makes them accessible and useful in and outside a learning management system. Also the development of OER tends to focus on the use of free and open standard formats, making the resources more accessible and re-useable to people using free software designed to operate standardised formats. The rise in educational use of popular content repositories like Wikipedia and YouTube, and the improved understanding of blogs, wikis and the socially networked Internet, has lead many to question the relevance and integrity of the concept of learning objects 
Socially networked media
For many, there is almost daily practice in the use of social media. For example, writing and answering emails, conversing through chat rooms and forums, publishing and watching videos and audio, and collaboratively editing documents and media which is simultaneously being stored and archived publicly for others to access, learn from and connect with. Informational and personal connections are being made through this social media, and all of it creates an impressive opportunity for learning. But as yet educational institutions struggle to define themselves within this social media age, often rejecting the idea of socially networked learning because it is regarded as unstructured, undisciplined and inferior to institutionalised learning.
Socially networked media, also called Web 2.0 or social media, has an obvious relationship to contemporary learning theories and pedagogical practices influenced by social constructivism. This relationship becomes increasingly obvious as more and more educators gain practical experience and critical awareness of learning through social media. As early as 1971, Ivan Illich predicted the applicability of such networked learning when he wrote of learning webs in his seminal book Deschooling Society, and he envisioned a society empowered through the use of peer to peer exchange of audio recordings on cassette tapes, facilitated by a community postal service. In the early years of the 1970s, Illich could have barely imagined the sharing of text, image, audio and video recordings we can enjoy today. If he were alive today, he would no-doubt be justifiably critical of it only being accessible to people in wealthy societies, and that too much of the Internet is predicated on technology that limits people's conviviality. But the successes of social media in the wealthy societies should be seen as the success of Illich's vision for learning webs as an educational paradigm. While the formats and delivery mechanisms may be different, the concept remains the same - give many people the ability to tell their own stories and ask their own questions to many other people, and powerful, socially constructed learning can emerge.
Meanwhile new educational institutions may be developing. The Wikimedia Foundation added Wikiversity to complement its suite of reference resources, and while it rapidly develops its technology, content and connections - with an average edit interval of 20 minutes as shown in its Recent Changes page, the user group continues to discuss its relationship to educational institutions and credentialism. The Commonwealth of Learning established a similar project called Wikieducator, and has been proactively drawing in educational professionals and consultants to help with its positioning, forming the Open Educational Resources University in 2010, and offering the first assessed online course in 2012. These online communities of open educational practice are growing and it remains to be seen what will become of their efforts.
It could be that Illich's vision is already happening albeit through the use of sophisticated and still exclusive technology. With people empowered in the ability to connect and communicate with many others, perhaps new pathways to formally recognised learning will emerge from this social media and directly challenge those who will wait and see.
When it comes to social media - participation is the key. Some people think that like learning objects, social media is another passing fad or worse, bringing amateurism to everything - including education.
The concept of social media (Web 2.0) is explained reasonably succinctly by Keats and Schmit (2007)
- Over the past three-four years, a set of technologies and social phenomena have arisen on the Internet that are collectively referred to as Web 2.0 indicating that the World Wide Web has seen a set of important changes since its inception (version 1.0) which have turned it from an access technology into a participation technology.
As described in the Rise of Participation Culture 2008 report:
- This shift in internet use from passive to active is at the heart of their digital behavior and can be summed up in one word: participation. The mainstreaming of this participation culture is perfectly characterized by the Pew Internet and American Life Project as "Web is the New Normal."
But what is it? Technically speaking it is the use of blogs; wikis; video, photo and audio sharing sites; forums, chats and even email, that combine into what more interestingly becomes socially constructed media.
Michael Hotrum in Breaking the LMS wall:
- All in all it was just a brick in the wall. All in all it was all just bricks in the wall. (Pink Floyd, November 30, 1979)
- The Internet is independent of device (hardware or platform), distance, and time, and is well-suited for open, flexible, and distributed learning. Yet traditional online, distributed learning methods are anything but flexible, open, or dynamic. What went wrong? Parkin (2004a, b) believes that we failed to appreciate that the Internet is a vehicle for connecting people with each other. We implemented LMS methods that imposed bureaucratic control, diminished learner empowerment, and delivered static information. “In a world hurtling toward distributed internetworking, e-learning was still based on a library-like central-repository concept.” Parkin suggests it is time to explore the true promise of e-learning, and to rework our ideas about how learning should be designed, delivered, and received. It is time to stop letting the LMS vendors tell us how to design learning. It is time to stop the tail from wagging the dog.
With participatory culture arguably being the norm for a generation of people accustomed to socially networked media and online communication, then so called learner generated content will naturally develop. And this places educational institutions in a potentially hazardous predicament. What are the implications for an institution - or a course within an institution, when a large number of its students start blogging all that happens to them there, and start connecting with teachers and other learners outside the walls of their classroom, LMS or institution? Well, it's already happened, and Wikipedia and OER are just some of the results.
In this chapter some of the rationale behind that investment, has been outlined especially the evidence that open education and social media are growing trends in the education sector and society generally, therefore providing an argument for the need for educational institutions to engage and participate in OER. In the chapter on Development the reasons for making that investment, including the detailing of several models of education are presented and includes an analysis of the return (ROI) in terms of traditional objectives and financial return. How the investment was actioned is also detailed.
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