OLI: Open Education Research Agenda

March 12, 2008

The morning panel is looking at the OER research agenda.


Jim Greeno

Jim talked about the way technology, practice and science can be linked. He referenced Donald Stokes (1995) “Pasteur’s quadrant” as seeing these aspects not as a pipeline but as different dimensions. However even with this recognition doesn’t make it easy to combine these. Looking at

       Learning Science: goals to identify and document phenomena – ending up with “mechanistic” explanations.

       OER: goals to design, develop and distribute resources that support learning.

These appear to be orthogonal axes. The implication to achieve this is that different personnel are needed for these two tasks as relatively independent activities plus the research related work will extend in time. (This has a direct relationship with the organisation of OpenLearn – however with the additional recognition of the whole project as research and everyone in it as “action researchers”.)

Should adopt Explanatory Design Principles as a joint effort – aim for cumulative collection of learning design principles. To get this to happen all write papers, go to meetings etc. The addition then of explanatory design principles as a specific output.

Jim’s next point was on the need to design support for socially interactive learning. He mentioned Activity Theory as helping give a view of the joint learning opportunities over individual methods. This would encourage such things as authentic practice and agency leading to a shift of focus towards design for participation.


Diana Laurillard

Diana’s talk looks at tools for learning design. Seeing this as a route to transfer teachers’ design to student experience. Developing in an echo of John Seely Brown – The social life of teaching. She used the current work on the Pedagogic Planner project to present the analysis tool for breaking down teacher time. She made very nice links to previous talks (Nancy Nersessian on why to use different methods, Martha Lovett on the principles to apply, Marlene Scardamlia on working in design mode, Gerry Stahl on collective activities, Alan Schoenfeld on traces and monitoring, OpenLearn as resource source). Further tools from the project allow analysis of learning outcomes to ensure the topic coverage works, output as information or timetables – i.e. actually being useful to the tutor. Diana also showed how the eventual activities can be represented in LAMS and further generalised to transfer practice.

The manifesto that she ended with is that technology


Toru Iiyoshi

Toru from the Carnegie Foundation talked about the needs of the programme for OERs to bring those outside of education into it. The book “Opening up education” that he edited with Vijay Kumar had gathered together reflections from experts and also given him a chance to think abut the big questions:

       How to encourage participation by learners and educators

       How to extend to niche areas

       What support is needed

Recommendations 1

       New light on hard problems

       Fresh look at education


       New pathways into education

Recommendations 2: culture and practice

       New resources and relationships (e.g. peer tutors)

       Good models for building receptivity

       How to allocate resources

Recommendations 3: sustainability


       Synthesis and synergy

       Governance – widely distributed and collective

Recommendations 4 : make practice and knowledgevisible and sharable

       Community inquiry and discourse

       Build intellectual and technical capacity

Recommendations 5 : Collective culture

Education concierge – guidance and wisdom

What conditions are needed for collective culture

How to create vast network


These come from the executive summary of the book that was also distributed. With aims

       Increase quality of tools

       Effective use

       Advance collective knowledge


I risk therefore I am – quote from somewhere.


John Seely Brown

John offered a point of view on open learning. He pointed out that there are many perspectives and he would look at the institutional level and try to spot the win-win. He started with the long-tail (Pareto principle) for education. 80:20 principle for revenue matched with 20:80 on cost. His example was Boccaccio’s Decameron and the way that the Decameron Web at Brown University had drawn together what is a niche topic. He highlighted also that public access such as at MIT has done helped show the teachers that there was a need to improve alignment between courses once they are out in the open. Perhaps the only way to get academics to look at each others course material.

The same long tail applies to learning – and a “compactness hypothesis” that for any subject there is already a web available group looking the subject because of individual passion in the subject. Perhaps leading to productive inquiry amd spirals of flow. “Learning about” v “Learning to be”. John revisited the amateur involvement in astronmomy as an example – because that actually is his own interest. Astronomy is recognised as a field where amateur and professional cross-over. (I know this  was also picked as a particularly interesting dynamic by Chris Anderson in his Long Tail book.)


He mentioned a new initiative – the worldwide telescope that brings together feeds from many telescopes across the world. A Google Earth for space. He described using this as generating awe! Anyone can generate commented replayable playlists of trips through space and share those – so the learner can be the “curator” of a trip throught he galaxy.


Home Sapien to Home Faber (making things again). With the making done virtually, digitally and digitally augmented physical. (I wonder myself if the new “fibbers” will help this cross-over to the physical world). John also looked at revisiting Dewey’s Pragmatic Technology. A switch from generating “authentic activity” to genuine activity.

He also went back to his Openlearn theme of tinkering going through a “cognitively impenetrable” period to now a rebirth as remix and mashups amd Polyani’s book – attending from v attending to.


The brewing perfect storm of the Hewlett report brings together transformative initiatives into an open participatory learning initiative. He also cited the potential power of making inferences from the data – can we apply the Google analysis techniques to the problems of learning. Enough data could be gathered across the OER community to do this.


As at OpenLearn2007 JSB gave a great talk full of new ideas! He cited a new article that would be wellworth visiting Minds on Fire – Open Education, The Long Tail and Learning 2.0  Educause Review Jan/Feb 08.


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