Live blogging 9AM – 18th March 2010 – GUIDE Workshop, Rome

Dr Indrajit Banerjee of the UNESCO ICT in Education, Science and Culture starts by considering some of the challenges and benefits of distance education.

Next, he recommends practitioners the use of  the ICT Competence benchmarks for teachers, launched by UNESCO.

UNESCO is focusing on 3 key areas, having launched its Open Suite Strategy.  It has 3 components: 1) Open  educational resources (Unesco is developing its own educational resources platform); 2) Open Access to Scientific Information and 3) Free and open source software.

He also mentioned UNESCO’s Open Training Platform (OTP) with more than 3500 courses in 21 subject areas. The OTP has over 630 training providers and has attracted more than 1 million visitors (

The OER debate

February 11, 2010

Martin Weller reports on his EdTechie blog that he won a debate on the value of OER at his end of project meeting in Fiji. Unfortunately he was speaking on the side of the anti-OER. While he makes it clear this is not his personal stance Martin lists 8 issues that get in the way of OER being a success. His points are all valid but of course in a debate he only has to present one side of the argument. So I thought I would try to balance with the counter-arguments.

  • Sustainability – pricing OER as if it was a completely separate activity makes no more sense than if we started to cost giving a lecture as if that was all a “lecturer” did. Rather working with OER has an impact across many aspects of work, if you stop counting it as a *separate* activity and see being open alongside other things you do the extra cost becomes more reasonable. Any other process that finishes in hidden and closed resources is wasteful: OER is the ultimate “green learning”.
  • Lack of reuse – this is inventing a barrier to OER by laying out the difficult process for taking, changing and giving back content. Rather surely OER is about helping learning happen and there the balance of evidence is different: use, feed through, flexibility v reuse, put back and structure.
  • Reuse is hard – yes it is if you define it as hard. Saying look at this resource and do section 5 is easier than editing out the previous 4 sections. So do it that way.
  • Individual/institutional resistance – also individual/institutional enthusiasm (rarer but growing).
  • Leave it to others – join in with others. Adopting open approaches mean that we can safely put content out there on Slideshare, Flickr, scribd, … The build your own repository is a temporary feature.
  • Lack of evidence – there is not enough evidence but there are many pieces and the stories are not to be ignored. Including some from Martin/SideCAP/EduShare. More needs to be done – but again care is needed to avoid setting high barriers that cannot be met by other approaches.
  • Cultural imperialism? – I covered some of this in a presentation to JISC. Yes OER carries a cultural message but openness also provides mulit-way communication and cultural diversity to counter the imperialsim.
  • Quality/Depth – OER gives a route to quality and depth by extending the base of content beyond those in the same institution – providing a superset of content over that previously available.
  • Learn through creation – last summer I tried an exercise (with Grainne Conole and Andrew Brasher) guided by Yannis Dimitriadis looking at OER to find material that would help learners work collaboratively. This felt exciting and inspiring – and at a later workshop the same message came back. OER can be a creative process for the user (or even reusers).

In the spirit of debate perhaps one sided and my academic side leads me to add this note that actually there is a balance between the points I am trying to make and Martin’s. I have also strayed into his big OER v little OER territory so he might well be able to catch me out on a technicality!

11:00 AM

This morning I set myself to explore some technologies to support the upcoming OLnet virtual workshops. The OU itself offers a number of them, such as Cloudworks, Cohere and FM. These are great tools that have been used successfully by a growing number of people worldwide. Nevertheless it’s important for us to keep an eye on what else the world finds interesting, and try to understand how best to make use of these tools for community enabling and to support our research purposes. In less than half an hour of what I would call a ‘very modest’ exploration, within my own social networking links, I found out three new tools. This time I didn’t even have the luxury of doing a Google search! I realised that in order to keep up with the technology available out there I would have to keep both eyes on it and not only one (excuse my Brazilian irony, I hope it makes sense lol). Just by reading some colleagues’ twitter messages and blog posts, as well as by looking at the technologies they use, I found out this whole new universe in front of me, that if I were to seriously explore, it would take at the very least the rest of my day time. Most immediately after this realisation and a quick look at the clock, I gave up searching for new technology and decided to think about how to make the best use of the tools that I already know. But is this the best option? I wondered. Maybe yes, I could get things done timely and effectively! Maybe not…. I could be missing out on better ways of doing things… and I would also be missing on the innovation side of things… the buzz tools, the buzz words, the DIM DIM, the DIGG, the Wave….

What a struggle. I concluded. And this is because I am not the most dummy of the persons when technology is concerned. Ok, I am more of an educationalist than a technologist, but even though… Perhaps the problem is not so much on ‘how’ to use the tools (at least for me), the problem nowadays is that there’s too much out there. It’s a Technology Empire. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, excuse me the techie ones. But that this infinity of options can be rather blurring, distracting and time consuming, oh yes it can. And when it comes to OER design, use and re-use, do people actually have that much time to spend on shopping around the options? In fact, perhaps one of the biggest appeals nowadays about shopping around for technology is that it’s free: you can download and play as much as you want with the tools without digging a hole in your pocket. And pardon my rather naive comparison, but I wish make-up and shoes were available in the shops and free in the the same way … 

Now, seriously, how on earth can we expect people to get grips with all that is around (even if it means two or three tools) and still produce wonderful reusable open content materials? And come up with great expertise and stories of success they can share with the world? And convince their institutions, colleagues and students that OER is a really cool thing to do? In most of the interviews with users I conducted for the past three years (teachers and general practitioners) they say something like this: “I love this technology, I really do. I think it is clever and could be really useful. But I sincerely do not have the time to invest in learning how to use it.” And they not rarely add “There’s a sea of options out there, I do not know what to choose and I do not even know where to get started. It’s a pity but it’s reality”. They are not alone. What to say next?

I still do not have a conclusion for my technology matter. It seems I am going round in circles, both counciously trying to get out of the technology trap (I like your term ‘trap’ Patrick) at the same time fascinated by the options these digital era gives me. And to give you an insider view, potential virtual workshop participants seem to prefer to use their own technology (they also develop cool things in their countries, you know?). So I wrote to my colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Orkut, MySpace, Skype and Messenger (have I forgotten anything?) and asked for their help; I asked them to suggest me some interesting virtual learning environments and social networking websites that could make great mediation tools to our virtual workshops, something they would like to use. Some of them sent me some total unfamiliar (to me of course), really  cool stuff they say, something we could never do without, all open source…. I must try them out… mustn’t I?

I need an aggregator, now I got it! I finally got the inspiration I was after, it only took me a blog post and it came my way. I am off to look for one now. Hum? The virtual workshops? The OER stuff? I think they can wait a little longer, I have something more important to do right now…

Live blog post, 3pm

continued form previous post:

1) Models of technology:

All projects use a pool of technologies: social networking (e.g. Facebook, Ning, Cloudworks), repositories (OpenLearn, slideshare, flickr), mapping software (e.g. Compendium, Cohere).

2) Models of learning:

Common to all projects: an attempt to blend formal and informal learning;

Discussed: the individual and social dimension; structure and unstructured materials.

3) Models of community:

Various foci: content, social interactions etc. How do these things characterize different types of interactions between learners, how does leadership happen in these spaces? 

Common to the projects: personalisation, content-focus, forums, openness. The concept of the collective, learning design (as a community)

4) Models of design:

Different models of design and how these projects can be placed in these models:

4 types of design model: 

1) configuration and re-configuration design (creating new patterns from existing ones) LDI, SocialLearn, OpenLearn

2) Inspirational design (Creativity): OLnet, VirtualMphil

3) Effective design (for particular requirements):  VirtualMphil, TERGU, Atelier-D

4) Collaborative design & Cooperative design (teams of people doing things): OLnet, Atelier-D

We will continue the conversation at Ning/Cloudworks. Cloudworks is open to the public view. Photos of the day are available at OLnetChannel on Flickr.

Live blogging: 2:15pm continued from previous post: What does each project think they can get out of this workshop? What are the models of learning? What do we mean by communities? What about collaborations? In terms of technology, what are the experiences we have in terms of using different tools? How can we pull this knowledge together? How can we use tools to better communicate and support communities? How to explore ways of communication between OU existing projects? What are the dimensions of formal and informal learning within our projects? In terms of the design of materials, are there any approaches that would help us achieve what we want? How can we draw on the visual elements of design? And representations in various ways? Creative thinking and creative learning: how could people make the best of the opportunities that they are given? Social technologies allow for creativity: what is the effect of this creative on the learning? How can we build more authentic assessment drawing on users’ personal experiences? Boundaries: how to manage our identity in social networking spaces? How can we explore new ways of collaborating between the projects? 3 main themes: communities/collaboration, design/learning, technologies (formal &informal learning) 4 Models: models of learning: models of communities; models of technologies; models of design Big question: How to explore ways of communication between OU existing projects? We are now being divided into 4 groups, each group being a gatekeeper of each of the themes above. Our aim is to create a representation of how each of the 7 projects discussed today tackle the models above. More to follow….

Live blogging:


This morning we are gathered together at the Open University, The Design Observatory, Observation Space, to discuss the connections amongst the various OER projects existing in the university. By ‘we’ I mean representatives from projects such as OLnet, Atelier-D, OpenLearn, SCORM, LDI, iSpot, the TERG research group and the OU Library.

We started by ‘building’ a virtual representation of the projects, using traditional technologies such as pens, paper, glue and magazines! Interestingly, most posters have pictures that evoke meanings such as networks, international scope, multiculturality, technologies and mixed age-groups.

Andreia Santos started by talking about the main three elements of OLnet (Open Learning Network): networking, participatory research and fellowships. OLnet is an international research hub that aims to bring together OER researchers, providers and practitioners with a view to promote a space for the sharing of experiences in designing, using and re-using OER. It offers a website and links to tools such as social networking (Cloudworks), a mapping tool (Cohere) and blogging/discussion forums to support community engagement.

Lucia Rapanotti follows by talking about The Virtual MPhil, a research programme offered by the OU computing department aiming to support a diverse community through online technology, bringing together supervisors and students working at a distance. It involves a number of technologies, such as Second Life and Ning.

Andy Lane talks about OpenLearn as a test-bed, a project to develop OER on big scale (big ‘d’). It exposes the OU content and other people’s content , but it is also a platform in which many things can be done. There is the LabSpace and Learning Space, and overall 20000 download of study units every week. OpenLearn is a test-bed for learners, for students, for educators, for the universities. People can do things with it and they do not have to ask us to do so. Research continues to be an important element to the understanding of how useful these materials are for the community and actually what they ‘do’ with them. 

Theo Zamenopoulos talks about Atelier-D: Achieving Transformation, Enhanced Learning and Innovation through Educational Resources and Design. Atelier-D is a design studio (of materials), a place for people to work together in collaboration with tutors and other students. It is a social environment for collaboration. The big question for the project is how to use the technologies to understand the dynamics of a traditional design studio. They use a mix of technologies such as Facebook, Second Life, Compendium, Flickr and Elluminate. They aim to bridge the use of these tools and try and create an infrastructure for the students to work with. How to integrate the complexities of the use of all these technologies is one of the project’s challenge (and of OLnet too, I should add!)

The next project showcased is iSpot; a project interested in wildlife and providing a space for the sharing of ideas within a friendly community. It is a place for informal and mobile learning, in which individuals can use the resources provided to observe wildlife and share information. The research side of iSpot is to observe people in their journey, how they use resources and make connections with them, although they say it is a real challenge!

TERG (Technology and Education Research Group) is a research group in the communication systems department, focusing on the use of technologies for learning and on how to learn with technologies. It involves different people at the OU collaborating and sharing experiences. 

More on Explore, Map and Build to follow….





How to…OER

September 28, 2009

Live blog:11:25AM

New OER initiatives are popping out throughout the world.  It is often the case that institutions are looking for answers on how to get started as OER providers, and how to get their staff and students involved in the process. Today I am in a meeting with some Dutch universities, which are either already offering content online or considering joining the OCW movement. The questions they ask and discuss in the meeting are, in my view, very relevant for any institution contemplating offering OER. These are:

  • What is the best audience for OER, learners or teachers?
  • What sort of support should an institution provide to its staff to design OER?
  • Should lecturers be involved in publishing the materials as well as developing them? Or should they only concentrate on designing, and the institution provide the infra-structure for publishing?
  • How to involve lecturers in designing and providing content?
  • What criteria to use to guarantee that the material offered is of high quality?
  • What do lecturers have to know before they get started?
  • With so much technology available, how to decide on the best media for OER provision?

OpenLearn has answers for many of these questions (perhaps all), but “does one size fit all’? By the way, this is one of the favourite questions of our new VC, Mr Martin Bean. And it is also something that OLnet is interested in finding out, evidence of best practices that can serve as a starting point for discussion around these issues. OLnet welcome ideas, experiences and stories to share with the community.

The annual Hewlett conference on Open Educational Resources (3-5 March 2009) has just finished. It has been a great conference for us as it provided a platform to launch OLnet and the team from the project (Candace Thille, Grainne Conole, Andreia Santos and myself) had quite a high profile in kicking off the Wednesday sessions and bringing things together at the end.

The main challenge for us was that we used Cloudworks throughout the conference. This did make us a bit nervous as the software is still alpha and in development by Juliette Culver alongside the site being built in Drupal by Nick Freear. there are a few rough edges (mainly edit limitations and user interface design) but overall it was a great success. The aim was to create a conference experience that persists and it delivered: there is now a great collection of comments, clouds, interviews and feedback on cloudworks for the OER Meeting, Monterey discussions. I was especially impressed by the way the hosts (Ruth Rominger and Gary Lopez from the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education) adopted Cloudworks not just for this conference but also for their own NROC conference that preceded it. They took ownership of the site and had a great idea in organising a team to report alongside the attendees. Those students (led by Jonathan Lopez) did a very good job.

It is also worth reflecting on why we were able to get Cloudworks adjusted to our needs so quickly. We needed a site that could handle video, slides, audio, live twitter streams, blog aggregation, etc. In the past that would have meant a lot of setting up – now though we very much drew on the power of embedding and used public sites (YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, internet archive) alongside homegrown tools Compendium and Cloudworks. A little HTML goes a very long way!

We got a lot out of this experience with some real feedback but also initial data for our research. It shows the value of being brave and embracing the go with beta (ok alpha in this case) appraoch of Web 2.0. We are now discussing ways to use these tools to make ideas persist and are hoping to find a way to run a distributed event across the time zones.

For OLnet we now can tick off a whole set of early milestones: launch, leaflets, day-one collaboration system, input from the community and some connections with people wanting to feed into our sub-projects.

Afternoon session of OLnet/CREET workshop

Martin Cooper talks about research bids. Martin describes the difference between novice and experienced bidders and focuses on the sorts of support that the university must provide to novices. There is a need for right timing when putting a bid together, where the ‘bright idea’ must be included in the work plan timely. Martin argues that researchers would be able to put forward many more bids if there was a higher level of administrative and project management support offered by the Open University. Martin was asked: How happy would you be to have your proposal out there in the world? He said yes, not a problem, whenever there are no confidentiality issues.

Kim Issroff was the next speaker on business models for open educational resources and web 2.0 research. A business model, as she explains,  is a framework to create social and economic values. It should sustain itself and generate revenue. Business models for OERs – various possibilities. Scholars that discuss these include: Chang, MIlls & Newhouse; Stephen Downes; Clarke 2007. Kim asks whether we do value more what we pay for and yet nowadays most things are offered for free (open source, open content).
Research questions arising:
What is the difference between business models of open source software and open educational resources?
What happens when we get to OER saturation point?
Is a financial model appropriate to think of open educational resources?
Will technological developments chagne these financial models?

Next, Chris Pegler talks about OER research beyond the OU: spotting opportunities. According to Chris, there are various opportunities for researching the use and reuse of OERs  in real communities of practice, such as TESSA (Teachers Education in Sub-Saharan Africa).

The day concluded with a group discussion of the outcomes of the day.

Interviews with all speakers sumarising their talks are available in the OLnet YouTube channel, with the tag ‘OLnet: Research 2.0’.

At OLnet/TEL day workshop. The group discusses what it means to be a researcher 2.0 .

Martin Weller presents his session on Elluminate and and points to the importance of trying and exploring new media and innovative ways of publishing and sharing content.

‘Liberate the archive’ is Martin’s message to the Open University. The community could consider more ‘distributed research’, with a set of interesting research questions generated by the community. Share results in a wiki for example, and blogs to overlap and share parallel conversations.