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.

The aim of OLnet (Open Learning Network) is to establish a network for information sharing about OER research. Questions such as ‘How can the design and reuse of OERs be improved?’ and ‘How can we build a socio-technical infrastructure to serve as a collective evolving intelligence for the community?’ are the heart of OLnet’s  interests.

Launched in January 2009, OLnet is in its very early days, but already planning a number of initiatives to start up its engagement with the research community. A fellowship program is being structured, in which researchers from all over the world will be able to invest their expertise in researching and sharing OER best practices and challenges. Alongside the fellowship program, OLnet first event will take place at the Open university in Milton Keynes in February, in which the OU community will have the opportunity to join the network and share experiences. The OLnet website is

CETIS – VLE session

November 25, 2008

Phil Barker’s session [live blogged – needs cleaning]
on The Learning Content Management

Why do we still have VLEs? What is the reason that we use such systems rather than something focussed on content managment. This might just be a way of labelling but for OpenLearn where we adopted Moodle it did have an effect. On the plus side it meant that we led with a system that could support the individual learner and had tools that could support collaboration. On the minus it meant that tools that dealt with the sharing and management of content were not a strong as they might be. In terms of positioning OpenLearn using Moodle has been very helpful but now we have the content itself there is a good argument for providing a more managed environment.

In this session there are echoes of my own past – Phil Barker, Stephen Vickers & Richard irby are all ex Heriot-Watt people as am I.

Stephen is now at Edinburgh University and described the work he is doing to assess how they should/could adapt to a future VLE if they move from their current use of WebCT. He had analysed the way tools were used on WbCT and found that many were using simple tools with something under 10% using the novel and innovative tools.
Comments on strengths often referred to integration with other tools rather than the VLE itself. Weaknesses also tended to not be about functionality but instead user interface and reliability.
The key lesson then is reliability and workflow (marking) are concerns along with notification, content management, collaboration (between systems – perhaps interoperability ratehr than collaboration) and empowering student learning. One item was also the opening up of access to content – avoiding the VLE becoming a silo for content.

List of roles of VLE:
Roles and permissions
Group tool
Conditional release
Combining tools in learning sequences [Learning Design!]
Work management tools
Tracking student activity
SDK for integrating with other systems.

Other things are then added on beyond that.

Richard Kirby – CAPDM talking about single source publishing.

Capdm is a model as a design and information model. Capture/Author/Publish/Deliver/Manage
Single approach to store everything in XML (Docbook) with extension. Added a question format (pre -QTI but similar). Capture from Word but also author directly into XML aware editor.
This is similar to the process that OpenLearn has followed, however the OU adopted its own schema. I have wondered whether the Docbook format would be an alternative or mappable from the OUXML schema. Not sure but could be worth investigating?
Richard also described some neat features such as automated table of contents that could be used to keep track of e.g. learning outcomes. MSWord documents can be converted with “80%” accuracy. The content is then managed through RCS version control with linked multi-lingual versions to help pass information efficiently to the translators.

Sarah Currier from Intrallect covered the repository aspect. A run through of the features that are offered perhaps shows how a move to a repository approach could bring the availability to a lot of tools. Comment that there needs to be a person who will take responsibility for the repository aspect of a service including the metadata side. Sarah also pointed out that repository based initiatives needed institutional support as well as project support.

Mark Stiles took a broader view – pointing out the eLearning is now deprecated. His personal history showed mix of success and that full use of VLEs remains the excpetation (as reported in UCISA surveys. His current view is that learners will opt out unless we can provide something better or be prepared to “let go”.

Current work is using the Hive repository with XCRI not just for content but also to bring in validation comments and course descriptions. Approach to allow different solutions and sustain innovation.

Tony Hirst,
Showed figure:ground as an analogy for how people react to Web2.0 (the classic vase or two faces). Medium:Context is Marshall McLuhan’s take on this. Equally for the PLE – it is not just the media it is the context.
Personal – Institutional
Portable – Monolithic
Social – Privare
Lesson – Course

There are lots of tools – cannot tailor to all of these but need to be aware of them (not know them in depth). Do not see it as institution against the student. Key to working with all these tools though is RSS as a way to move content around. An even easier version is the embed code (e.g of the slides on slideshare such as Tony’s own talk – BUT this tends to be stripped out.

As an example he talked about Jim Green’s wordpress_mu use to provide easy learner blogs and republishing. This also interoperates with MediaWiki to pick up best

VLE to SLE (S=Social, Syndicated, Scruffy)

I am attending the CETIS conference in Birmingham – the first morning is arranged as a plenary keynote by Andrew Feenber. [Need to update this with links.]

Oleg Liber set the scene. He described it as a recession special. Reminding us that in this time of change we can spot new opportunities, or the need to entrench and close in around options.
Key reference points influencing the UK:

Leitch report – need to think about value.
Burgess report – how do we assess/accredit.

With decisions such as the non-funding of second degrees causing pause for thought – will it focus minds and impact on humanities? Big impact on OpenU. Demographic changes making everyone think about new sectors.

Technology changes – mobile computing finally (asus, iphone, Google android).
Web as platform – finally coming true as well
Cloud computing – but we should not abandon the ideas of elearning (even if we do abandon the term).
Lifespan of information is longer than the life of applications and devices.

These are challenges for all of us – but worth looking at IT services in particular. IT services are becoming important.

JISC CETIS describes itself as a place where it is ok to talk technical details. It is newly divided into two parts systems and content/peoples and activities. Over the next year will hole one event per month. Plus working groups – output oriented around specifications.

– achievements of previous year
– Areas of actions for year ahead
– Special focus on demand on IT services.

Adam Cooper then took over to describe the “CETIS connections” linked connections similar to BBC’s comedy connections. He has put up his powerpoint with links through to the blog posts.

Oleg introduced Andrew Feenberg – a Canadian philosopher to talk about “The online education controversy”. An historical and analytic talk.

He took the approach of reading his talk – describing Educational Technology as an oxymoron (in some hands). He led with a quote (from Brody President of John Hopkins University) about the way that education has not recognised the opportunities that it has to lower cost. This view reflects a performance view of Higher Education (with salary costs half of education costs). He referred back to “Executive Computing U” using computer conference system to support distance learning. Startup problems – how to teach and learn online, developed dialogic pedagogy. Text based online discussion can be effective and should not be overlooked today.

Distinguished online from face-to-face. Encourages slower pace, better recognition
“little doubt that good teachers can achieve good results”. Question though whether there is greater value in multimedia over text. David Noble took a contrary view. Compared with Plato on writing – and the lack of ability for written text to adapt and converse. A humanistic bias against technology.

Key is that technology can replace dialogue with interacting with technology – but it does not necessarily follow. And perhaps the Internet is the technology that liberates.

Division of labour (John Smith) illustrated by the image on the £20 note. Andrew Yure? – quote about reducing the skills required from individuals to avoid intractable people needed in the system.

Image from army training manual depicting technology as a delivery mechanism to deliver ideas into the human brain.

Pinch? & Bijker – “…different inerpretations by social groups … lead to … different further developments”. The interlinked and co-consructed nature of social use of technology can be Illustrated by Escher’s drawing hands. There is no clear way to say what is the starting point.
Terms of relevance:
technical underdetermination
actors influence design
interpretive flexibility
closure on a successful design

Suggested rival models for how technology might function include the “factory model” or the “the urban ideal”. Factory implies control and narrowing, city view looks at potentials, communication and openness. While it seems obvious that the city view is more desirable – however viewing technology as cost cutting and automating means that the factory model could dominate.

Inviting email response and visits to his web page on early online education and online pedagoy. At He also mentions that he has developed an annotation tool for Moodle

Online can support most activities that go on in the classroom.

Oleg Liber asked a key question prompted by the classic experience of listening to a lecture v watching the video. The key is that the live version is a performance that could change while the video cannot change. Bill Olivier made the point that this fits with Piaget that there is a point where you need to adjust mental framework and dialogue will enable people to cross that point better than anything else.
Andrew Ravenscroft – what does the recession change. In the first instance nothing needs to change – but it could be the end of the obsession with making money and greed. People may develop interests beyond making making money which drives people to do the same thing. How this impacts on technology is unclear but efficiency and output focus is part of Thatcher/Reagan era that may not carry forward.

Children have to go to school to gain the models for interactions and vicarious learning to learning. Then can progress to online. Text base can then offer enough engagement to allow construction of connections.

I have just submitted a proposal to the Hewlett Foundation to develop an Open Learning network. This has involved working with Candace Thille at CMU and several people here at the OU including Grainne Conole, Andy Lane and Simon Buckingham Shum. Much of the drafting took place in a public wiki which was an interesting process.

Anyway this short post is just to point to the earlier draft on the wiki and the later PDF submitted version that can be reached from there.