Ideas and future projects

In the last few months as I have been freed from schools by the summer holidays and instead have been bouncing in between different worlds. In July I was in Berlin for OKFest and co-facilitated a session there on Open Education and Open Data to which Ottavio Ritter from the OK Ed Working group contributed to immensely and helped to provide details on the kinds of initatives that are on-going in places like Brasil for example. Since then I have been preparing to move to South Africa where I will be starting an M.Ed looking at Open Textbooks and Open Education in Cape Town in January of 2015.

But here is a brief summary of some of the projects and things I have been dipping into along the way:

Mozfest 2014

The mighty rumble of Mozfest glee is gathering pace as people all over the interweb prepare for 3 days of awesomeness in London :)

I am looking forward to helping to work on a few ideas and will be proposing a session or things to work on within another session for the festival. But the idea that I have been playing around with recently is this one. I would love people to get involved and tell me what you think of it as a potentially realisable project for the future. There are more details below on some of the thinking behind this idea as well.

Working With the UNESCO Dataset in the Open

In the meantime I have also been working to help out with another side project proposed to me by Professor David Turner who is particularly interested in the use of data in education within our field of comparative and international education.

Details of this ongoing work are all here . We are looking for feedback and suggestions, and a little help with a few technical problems too. The short version is that we are trying to see how we can take the whole UNESCO dataset for education to make it possible for people to data wrangle it in the open more easily, particularly in order to help graduate students studying international education and education policy to develop skills in this area using open and free software. We will be presenting this work or at least proof of concept at the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) Conference in Bath in September.

OERs and the Wider Open Movement

In the meantime I have been also doing some thinking about Open Education Resources (OERs) and work around teachers using OERs and how the OER community of researchers also engages with the wider open movement in its work.

In the last few weeks we have been having an interesting debate on the Open Education Working Group maillist around a simple question : Is OER still a movement?

If you have not come across this mailist it is easy to subscribe here and there is an archive of all of our discussions available on the web here.

In the previous posts on the mailist the point was made that work on OERs was something of a 'minority sport'. In fact the 'OER movement' may not really reflect the more informal channels of sharing and distributing knowledge as well as it could, due to this problem. The point came out clearly in the replies too that a lot of work on OER's was driven by funding and academic bodies rather than by other communities. The point was also made that in fact OER's are out there everywhere these days but just often are not recognised as such or do not quite qualify as OER's per se. Evidence of this fact was that plumbers these days are responsible for the sharing and creating of hundreds of OER's on Youtube 'without knowing it' describing asepcts of their work to share with other plumbers.

So I decided to take these invisible OER plumbers as a potential test group for a few assertions. First of all I think there is a danger in potentially assuming that the hypothetical plumbers do not participate in the 'minority sport' of the 'conoscienti' and may not recognise or license their videos in an open format because to them there is no evident need to formally recognise their activity in this way.

In reference to this Coughlan & Perryman's short paper makes some salient and sobering points to curb the enthusiasm of those who see OERs as more widely recognised in less formal contexts. It suggests in the process of working on OERs that we may have too often ignored engagement through groups on Facebook and social media and particularly in terms of considering the perceptions of OERs in different contexts, the importance of barriers to sharing and collective action. So Youtube may hold the rights in regards to our plumber's videos. But possibly the only important aspect of this to these users of course is that they get to share and freely exchange video via the web within their groups and are recognised as such by their peers in the process.

I assumed that it might matter to all plumbers a lot more potentially that they own the licenses to their own videos, but this may also not come to pass without a small group of open plumbers setting out to do this and make it possible. But I am not sure where I stand on the idea in the discussion that we should carry on pushing everyone until it is no longer necessary to make the point about open licenses and standards (which I think may actually never happen). Essentially at face value for many groups of people, this is sometimes a tangential concern. Of course, I think if we are part of an 'open movement' we probably should still be trying to have that discussion with our plumbers at every opportunity, and in fact everyone else, who admittedly also may give us a wide eyed look of concern before rapidly moving towards the door..

But I also worry that we spend too much time in our own communities in the OER world sometimes and not enough time in other communities. I think there is a huge gap between those who approach it from the perspective of the academic theory and these so called 'communities of practice'. And I also sometimes find it a bit distrubing how Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's term and idea seems so often to have become a sort of stepping stone terminology, masking the fact so often that 'real' communities may at the same time be at risk of becoming broken down into something else in the process. I am not so sure how useful it is, unless of course you are an academic :)

One point that was made in the original post was that the word 'movement'

suggests grass roots action, social movements,
What makes it a movement compared to, say, a favoured funding track of certain Foundations?

I think that one thing that makes it a movement is by virtue of it being distributed, and decentralised enough to reach out and engage with specific areas of interest to engage people from a wide spectrum of constituencies. Another is having clear shared goals and broad aims. The OER 'movement' is not very useful if it remains a 'minority sport'. It may then need both a broadening of the framework for engagement with a tighter focus on the specifics of what matters to different communities. Eg. more effective decentralised work seems a good idea rather than staying within a more abstract or theoretical bubble.

And in reference to this Lorna's blog post made the point that that to often we are stuck with thinking about work on OER's as a 'luxury item'. I think if we are using the term 'luxury item' then it seems unlikely that we will be tapping into the right kinds of questions with other communities.

I think that more effective advocacy that targets specific issues is more likely to come from a clear political concern over particular power struggles between groups or actors, for example over particular kinds of policies or directions taken by government. So questions about licencing and openess that get framed within these more specific campaigns on an issue to me make more sense.

For example, a more targetted approach towards advocacy seems present in orgnisations such as SPARC in the US, targetting specific policies and advocating for particular measures.

And for me in education I can understand for example why many teachers may not see that OER's connect in a relevant way to a host of other issues in how their role as producers and sharers of knowledge is being shaped in the current context.

I mean you can link things in the abstract to a generalised theory of social justice in education but that is again a very academic approach. You can show people how overcoming broader barriers to recognition, redistribution and participation in education requires a focus on specific practices and bring their attention to adopting open practices...

But I am not always convinced - I think it is better to find the ways to frame specific issues so as to highlight why openness matters for them in particular. I mean for example, with the current introduction of performance pay in schools in the UK and the divisions between 'higher performing' teachers and 'lower performing' ones are being directly played out with reference to student results and teacher pay packets. In this context you can imagine that there is a real question for teachers suddenly about who does get to claim the intellectual property over their materials and work, their annotated schemes of work or the end of term practice tests that they individually went off and wrote or paid to download to help their struggling students make the grade...and within that whole system of performance measurement there is very little or nearly no system of credit, attribution or recognition given to teachers who engage in open practices or open licencing that I have seen at least.

Teachers like it or not have no choice but to use the systems they are given to work within and so they seek to do that often, and while they share a common interest in developing good resources and making them widely available this doesn't happen within a vacuum. TES online for example is one of the largest repositories of materials made by teachers in the UK, evaluated by other teachers for teachers in the UK and used by teachers in classrooms. The fact that it has grown into such from being an entirely incidental collection of materials that congregated around the forum page of the Times Educational Supplement, is notable in that this was basically driven by path dependance. And this was at the time also something of a shock to those in charge of the Times when they first noticed it happening.

So it is not clear to me in a sense how people see the whole sort of principal - agent relationship working out in different contexts, and what beleifs may lie behind different forms of agency for teachers for example in open education, and which kinds of mechanisms can be effectively used to align the interests of these agents with a wider 'open movement'.

In most fields people do tend to act and behave as if education and knowledge is a positional good rather than an open commons and a public good, but they often do this particularly because they recognise that others in their own communities and organisations percieve things in this way first. But there is an asymetry of information here, which means that it is very hard to dispute and track any claim to being impartial and open, and so often it is not enough (some might even say it's simply naive) to ask people to stop thinking of education and knowledge in that way by simply telling them that it shouldn't be so.

And in the process I also think it is quite concerning how easy it is for such efforts to get highjacked by the more entrenched interests of capital sitting on the sidelines waiting for their moment to make good on the collapse of one sort of 'openness' to reify it instantly with another, that is simply more instrumental and fit for purpose, a point also made by Eric Kansa here.

So another thing that I think we should consider when people mention that work on OERs is like a minority sport is that we really should be looking beyond our own community in the open movement and connecting with other communities and learning from them. Possibly learning from advocates like Tim Berners Lee and others who have been successful in creating sticky enough and simple enough principles for advocating for change, for example with open data with things like the five star open data deployment scheme.

Similarly it makes sense to see where we within the OER movement can also be part of those other efforts. For example within the Open Government Partnership, to which many countries with strong OER movements have subscribed, there is not really any attention given to OER's at all in the measuring and rating of different country level claims to 'openess' as far as I understand it. But I don't see why there shouldn't be, and maybe we should try to think about how we could engage at least potentially in those kinds of discussions and try to keep in sight also the wider discussion on things like Net Neutrality for example. In this the work of the Open Coalition is of course very important.

As I mentioned above I am hoping to propose a session or to include this within work on another session along these lines for Mozfest in London in October if anyone else is going. A very simple sketch or placeholder for this idea is here. https://etherpad.mozilla.org/mozfest-open-spaces

But for now this is all extremely in beta phase of development :) So Please drop me a line if you would like to be involved or fancy wrangling with any of it :)

I am hoping these kinds of discussion will get to be thrown around the room a bit in October and afterwards and I'd like to see if I can continue to build on them together with others during the next year from Cape Town. As a center for work on OERs and a hub for activities relating to the Open Movement and mobile technology particularly too I am looking forward to it a great deal, where I will be studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Center for International Education.

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