Having finished with meetings from the Hewlett OER meeting the gang from the OU went out for a nice Thai meal and got our fortune cookies – could they be describing OpenLearn :-).

Fortune cookies

But which of us got which one! Can you match the fortune to Jerard, Simon, Andy and Patrick?

Hewlett: Closing session

March 13, 2008

Cathy Casserly relaunched oerderves with a chance to comment on this meeting and the way forward (though I am not sure that the commenting is working just know).

We then had an open discussion with issues from the floor:

  • UNESCO trying to reach the world and keep
  • Communicate the good news – make more visible
  • How do people find our stuff
  • Ecology of the user experience – by working together
  • Plug our own project – OER Recommender (David Wiley)
  • What does search
  • Also find help on how to use as well as just find
  • Vijay Kumar: Draw on experience with how best to get information to MIT faculty – want real voices. About the movement as well as the content.
  • Need to also look at exciting leaps forward as well as steps – research is needed
  • Content will be free – services provided on top.
  • Philosophy at Hewlett is cheap is not free
  • CC-by needed to open up all content for services
  • Need to keep teachers on board
  • What is the next small step to take – guidance, planning to bring OERs into teacher training.
  • Challenge to not fall into traps and genuinely help – for Africa that means that there is local involvement in producing OERs before take up of those from others.
  • Transplanting sophisticated approaches (e.g. OUUK) that depend on educators who know how to help people learn, otherwise it will get turned into transmission.
  • Work with the Social aspects of the web
  • Work with institutions – providing infrastructure to create own content, did help working with provided content and for OCW to come along later.
  • Find key people and then help them get their message across
  • Africa – need to ensure Africans are full collaborators in the activity (also true for any area of the world need co-collaboration).

Robbin Steif of Lunametrics looked at the ways that we can help people find and get to our sites. She started with the analytics data from using Google Analytics as an example to look at: 

  • Visitors v goals: how many visitors make to a particular page (e.g. the full content page for a course).
  • New visitors v returning visitors: in general visitors who come back are more valuable
  • Sources for references: relevant links give more serious users 


She pointed out that we should work together as OERs: co-opetition – link to “rivals” and comment on their activity. Robbin showed eye-tracking data that demonstrate how the top actual (non-sponsored) links are where the attention is, so it is better to have good page rank through links than to provide paid for adwords. However just swapping links was not a good strategy.

Keyword selection can be aided by using Google Trends to compare and see which keyword are the more popular. She also showed quintura.com mapping the connections between words, so I tried this for OpenLearn:

OpenLearn keyword map 

How to use keywords:

  • Title text – keep short (truncated at 150 characters) with most important words at the beginning.
  • Links – in to your site are most important. Within the site: link on keywords not on e.g. company names.


SEO mistakes: No SEO, No Keyword research, Ignoring title tags, same title tag on all pages, too little text/content – too much Flash/pictures, no links, reciprocal links, poor internal linking, ignoring URLs, no site upkeep.


Get the site linked to in Wikipedia – will not get higher SE but bring in good users from it. [We know from experience thought that this can be tricky, and some suggestions of creating new identities seemed a bit beyond what we would want to do.]


Niche audiences: give content information to professional associations etc.


Mailing lists: care needed, Robbin suggested www.constantcontact.com for smaller lists.


Taylor Pratt then talked about Viral marketing.

Make it easy to:


  • Send to friend
  • Integrate the ad
  • Encourage response
  • One click to social bookmarking
  • Social media – dig, stumbleupon, facebook, myspace, reddit, flickr, del.icio.us, twitter. But often don’t give good conversion.


Inside these there are behaviours that will help get attention e.g, engaging titles – it was suggested that we study the front page of popular magazines! The key though to high attention in social sites was getting involved – and that takes a lot of time.


Phoenix Wang introduced the session on usability and the challenges given by Patrick Whitney of the Institute of Design in Chicago.

Patrick talked about the issues that commercial organisations worry about and some failures and successes: failures included an Apple cube computer, Newton, Microsfot Bob, Web Van – of these were actually driven by sound user research. And some successes that had come from individual ideas – iTunes, OXO Good grips, the Novo(?) keyboard that clicks through identities. Moving from push to pull – but actually we might be dealing with anonymous users. Knowing how to make something does not help us match to patterns of daily life. He set out 4 principles for helping user centred design.

1. Activity-centred research

Patrick described several approaches:


  • Product-centred research
  • Culture-centred research: look at market segments
  • Activity-centred research: focus on activities and the context


The sort of studies to carry out include – disposable camera studies [sounds like Bill Gaver’s cultural probe studies]. Good things to look for are work arounds and structured field-notes that then allow


Insights matrix to find clusters by sorting the insights matrix. Rather than hierarchical sorting. A database that links back to the image and cases then allows illustration and deeper analysis.


2. Desirable, possible, and viable.

He gave examples of spotted opportunities: iTunes, FaceBook, Pearsons.


3. Look for user patterns, and then build systems and platforms.


Look at the context in terms of dimensions Abstract -> Real, Analysis -> Synthesis. Studies can move from real to abstract amd then from an analysis to synthesised options, and then make fast implementation.


Patrick answered some questions about whether design led could work. His examples included Home Schooling that cried out for aggregation.

How do we know more through mining data? This is not design – but monitoring behaviour as you don’t know the context of people’s lives around this: and those lives are often messy and complex and needs qualitative data around it.


Designing for participation (Vijay) – we have hoped on adoption and adaption. Need to design without being minimalistic but still offer options. The answer is around platforms – Steve C commented to me that this is a content v delivery tension.


No way around spending a lot of quality time with the customer – and then look at the alternatives to implement v temptation to just ask “tell me the product you want”.


Will there be a “killer app” for learning? Answer he is looking at is to develop a platform to be Kid-centred v curriculum-centred, beyond formal, assuming content is free.

4. Prototype a bold future

Plant yourself in the future and work you way back (cf Michael Porter activity systems). He showed a bank with interconnected books: RFID chipped so taking them out, a giant plasma that links to Google Earth, dream drawers. “Only going to the dentist is worse than going to a bank”. The approach was to just build and then use


He offered to send a poster with more principles if we email him to request an IIT methods poster.



Qs: What makes somethings that Apple does a success and others a failure.

A: Apple accepts failure

Q: How to tell poor ideas from poor implementations

A: E.g. of webvan v home delivery from Tesco – link to physical

Q: How to take lessons into virtual world

A: Actually the two worlds come together quite often

Q: How to carry out the research in Maine where they are taking all the yr 7&8 kids and giving them devices to gather data in the field.

A: Start with cheapest most available, and investigate, go with them, experience what they do. Do software experiments with people: whenever the user asks for information the person acting as the software will fetch the information. E.g. free advice for visitors – set up a stall at attempt to answer all questions. Follow similar activities.

Q: Designing OERs – end users could be anywhere.

A: Get data from distributed users and collate. Look for extreme users (e.g. for laundry find those who use multiple products)

Q: Is there a protocol for involving non-expert users?

A: Patrick explained that there are papers released about his approach, though they have not released the software they have developed. In general their approach is to hardly ever do direct observation, but instead get information from people in the field.

Q: We are not challenging the dominant mode of teaching: the course. We should be challenging that if following the principles here.

A: Yes. What if we move away from Fordist idea that there are things that we should learn?

Q: Facebook

A: Just build it and put it out there. Think big, start small, move fast.

Q: We can’t just rely on geniuses. Christienson models.

A: True innovations start small.

Q: Around remixing – capturing observations. How to capture that? Focus is on virtual site.

A: Video enthnography is hard – giving people cameras is easy. Getting them back will tell surprising stories. If you take the pictures then will introduce bias.


Paul Brest, President of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Paul was introduced as the person who supported the OER initiatives from the top of the Foundation. He described any foundation as being a “three trick pony” – knowledge generation and dissemination, [something else], and advocacy. The relevant action for us is on knowledge generation. Working in two parts: education and informing citizens about policy. Paul then focused in on data. Data is what drives the knowledge and indeed information is power – which can mean that there is a flow from the developing world to being published by the developed. Actions by the Hewlett Foundation include developing demographic skills in Africa and in playing a role in a major data collection activity in the US. HF will also attempt to be more open with its own information – for reasons related to transactional, practical, issues rather than protecting their own data.

Cathy Casserly

Cathy explained a position that we should we now be trying to scale up the way we were addressing issues. She showed a slide from 2004 that considered whether the way forward was through  research or content based projects. At that time the research strand seemed too early – but perhaps can now be revisited in Phase II: with Teaching and Learning Exemplars under pinned by Infrastructure. Cathy referred to the infrastructure elements as hubs of activity: CORE & OER Africa as regional examples.

Cluster of work on Open Gaming, Open Textbooks, Participatory Learning. All of these built on a model of very quick feedback loops. Open Game Based Environments – Open Language Learning Initiative. Open textbooks are looking at ways to generate physical books from OERs. OPLE example is very much based on gathering real data – though I think that might well not cover everything. Transform teaching and learning teacher training – will cut in 2009. Focus for new projects:


  •        Partnering institutions – self-organised rather than brought togther by Hewlett
  •        Multi-funder projects – challenge funding and exit strategies
  •        CC by licence – move towards least restrictive licence.
  •        Demand driven – what is return on investment and end-user structure
  •        Stimulate innovation through competitive process – may try in game-based releasing criteria and carry out a RFP (cf MacArthur digital learning programme)

We need to remember how powerful the open paradigm is for learning as:


  • Extending institutions
  • Giving individual control
  • Allow user and expert feedback
  • Adaptation as an instructive learning process 

Ending with a quote from Gandhi “If we are to attain real peace in this world,…, we will have to begin with the children.”

Susan Ambrose – Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence

Talked about adopting a learner-centred approach to learning. She gave out a handout to support the idea of using principles to drive into supporting learning. The first aspect is how to assess prior learning – which we are asked to discuss in small groups. 


Aside: While this is probably worthwhile it brings out for me that challenges are changing as we move to open resources and lose the control that is implied by being able to assess prior knowledge. In Open Content it is primarily the learner’s decision whether or not to go forward. Andy Lane made the comment that much of what was being said matched well to controlled small scale situations but making each learning situation have the same loading of assessment of prior learning does not scale well. For OER work we need to separate out these aspects and see that we need to perhaps develop learning skills and reflective practices. We can see some of this happening in the learner generated Knowledge Maps of OpenLearn – but in other respects it can feel like a leap into the unknown.

Knowledge map from OpenLearn 

John was introduced as following up on his earlier session on OER research with a short review but diverted to consider aspects raised by Raj’s talk. He picked on some assumptions that were being tackled:

  1. The division into chunks of learning
  2. The need to R&D education – The OU being cited as an exception in being the only example of a Uni that recognises the need to do this
  3. The need to reinvent the basis of education – from community library to a place where you can make/build something.

As an example he talked about the Maker Faire – organised by a magazine called Make to share things that individuals build for themselves.

Cathy Casserly opened the session with the challenge of how to structure contact between Grantees. The meeting here will be extended with a session tomorrow on the Meta-university meeting. Cathy also showed the Michael Wesch Kansas State University video Students Today http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o and a remixed version of it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln6WUy29fAA released for Martin Luther King day.


Joel Smith CMU – opening session

Cathy introduced this as the second major Hewlett grant on OERs. Joel listed famous people from CMU/Pittsburgh.

Considering the growing “ecosystem” of OER workers. Ecosystems are not necessarily things to control – but actually it does need management but of an adaptive style.


Keynote: Raj Reddy – reinventing education for the 21st century

Raj ran through the influences on his professional development – Newell, Simon, Anderson, Gibbons. He also mentioned previous work on a PITAC report: using information technology to transform the way we learn. Leading to the “teacher for every learner” challenge. Raj will be working in India on a new Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies. This will try to apply learning principles. Funded with ~$1bn over 6 years and with a 6 year curricula from yr11&12 followed by 4 years undergraduate. Selection based on the California system of selecting the “local best” students to get mix of backgrounds – though all will be from rural backgrounds.

All students get laptops and a gap analysis approach to reinforcing learning through practice. The curriculum includes 1 day, 1 week and 1 month courses with the results available as online open resources. With extra topics introduced by extending the day and giving very little holiday time. Even the spare time is to be filled with activity – the example that he gave was audio books of the English classics. [This sounded worthy but also felt a bit like imposing the outside culture and not a close match to the needs of the students.]

He also flagged up other issues that he has been working on: broadband for Africa, integrated cheap computer/TV/phone, digital books – universal library. These examples cover infrastructure, computer & content.