Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Open Educational Practices and the Future of Open Learning

If you're one of the few regular readers of my blog, you will likely know I'm a big fan of all things Open, however I'm also a bit sceptical about Open Education being/becoming mainstream (which in my view, leads to problems around sustainability). Actually, I wrote a post a few months back questioning if the Open Content Movement is indeed Mainstreamed and Sustainable.

Now, I've been thinking about blogging on how I see the future of learning for some time, but I was prompted again this morning when reading a Grainne Conole chapter about Open Educational Practices (OEP), in Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education. For the record, OEPs are practices that support production, use and reuse of OERs (from policy to on-the-ground activities).

When I sit back and ponder what the world might be like in 15 years, with a gang of Mini-Me's running around (you might want to be careful if/when that happens by the way), I think about how their education might be different to mine, and what practices and skills (or Capacities as Doug Belshaw might suggest) they will need to do their homework (their learning/digital literacy toolkit, perhaps).

Now I'm not going out on a limb here and suggest robots and all that jazz, but over the years we have seen massive developments in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), moving from the Command Line Interface to Xerox, Apple Lisa, and the birth and development of the mouse to control a graphical user interface. Metaphors such as the desktop, folders and the recycle bin were revolutionary. Later, Apple changed the game again by really conquering touch interaction. 

In recent times, we've seen new interactions with things like the Nintendo Wii, XBox Kinect, and  Apple's personal assistant, Siri. The latest breakthrough is the Leap 3D Gesture Device, allowing users to interact with the computer through gestures.  I really think these developments will once again revolutionise the way we interact with computers on a mass scale, so much so, that people will no longer immerse themselves into computers; I think the ubiquity and control of computers will become immersed into our environment. I think we'll move to something that closer resembles Minority Report (If you haven't seen Minority Report, check out this clip to see what I'm on about).

So not wanting to deviate too much from the title of this post, I'll move on to relate this to openness.

So when my kids are doing homework, they will have access to search for anything and everything. And I don't just mean the stuff we can search for now - not just a wikipedia article, a YouTube video or some random site. I mean a voice command that returns an instant seamless stream of content that they can quicky engage with or disregard with a swipe of the hand. Not a google results page that they have to work through methodically to filter out what's good or not, or have to try and move past the sponsored results. Instead, it will know what they want. It will know them!

Now Google have already started to build on the semantic web with their Knowledge Graph, which they claim is building a massive graph of real-world things and their connections, to bring more meaningful results. So combined with the developments above, I suppose I'm hardly predicting anything new. However, we can't take this future as a given. It's not just going to miraculously appear because Google have put their weight behind it. OERs and Open Data will be a key (and critical) factor in this. As things stand, it will rely on the Open Educational Practices that Conole discusses (2012) (which is a bit of a problem because they are currently not embedded as standard practice, nor for that matter, is engagement with OER [from a creation and reuse perspective])

Conole suggests there is a resistance to the adoption of open practices, which I fear will relegate OER to an abstract concept. So what's needed to ensure they don't? 

Whilst the structure and models Conole discusses are very valid, I have a bigger problem with it all. Similar to how I believe computers will be immersed into our environment, so to must this set of practices which are currently abject and separate. I think we need to move away from the mindset that open educational practices are something different, and to do this, we need move away from the very practice that open education itself is something different. That is, the process of (re)developing, licensing, sharing and curating. Currently the difficulty in creating a reusable learning object is too much for the majority - there is no single and/or easy way to go about this - academic staff have to learn about the various methods (whether that's looking at Exe, Xerte, Glomaker, etc), learn how to use them, perhaps develop their graphical design skills so they look engaging. Concomitantly, they must license them appropriately, and upload it to whichever repository they like (Jorum, Merlot, etc). Ensuring every academic has these skills is without doubt a tall order. 

Instead, these processes need streamlining. Sometimes, choice can be a bad thing. I'd like to see a mechanism that brings all of the separate elements of OER together in a standardised way, so even the academics with few IT/digital literacies can participate without having to learn lots of new stuff (actual skills, understanding licenses, and generally being aware of repositories, etc).

Until it's easier for the masses to engage, I'm unsure if OER will ever be fully embedded as a core practice, and ultimately the future I envision will remain a deluded thought. To prove it's possible, I leave you John Underkoffler's TED video on the developments of UI....

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  1. Nice post you make some excellent points! I agree with you that OER need to be easier to create and repurpose and need to be better embedded if we have a chance of academics really embracing them - we have a long way to go....

    1. Hi Grainne,

      I think currently, we are miles away. As I mentioned in one of my skeptic posts on OER, I believe engagement with OERs (or more specifically, creation of OERs) is very low.
      Having said that, I do believe the future of an immersive web relies on openness.

      Thanks again for comment.
      Link for said skeptic post is

  2. Good post. Hmmm ...

    I can't help wondering if sometimes we (elearning folk) expect academics/teachers to behave in ways that they wouldn't naturally do. Authentic open practice comes out of people extending their open behaviours into the digital professional space. I don't know anyone who is more open professionally than they are personally.

    What that implies for me is that OER concepts won't drive sharing practices, its rather that personal practices developed around facebook, flickr, youtube will be extended into the professional domain. The concept of OER is a way of reinforcing that extending those behaviours is useful and good.

    It's kind of not the content being embedded, but that the sorts of services people use anyway get used for work purposes. The trick for Jorum for example (which I oversee) will be to push and pull into the places people already are, to be part of the flow of sharing practice, which is itself part of the social flow.

    Another implication of what I said is that I don't really think there is such a thing as "an OER", there is openly licenced content created for educational use, and openly licenced content created by educators, and I personally try to avoid labelling something as an OER except as shorthand.

    The reality outside of research literature is that this space is about people and the content they share and use ... it's a much broader ecosystem view than thinking in terms of OER practice and OER platforms.

    I think?

    1. Hi Amber,

      thanks for another thought provoking comment.

      So I think you're suggesting engagement with openness (or what you quite nicely phrase, authentic open practice) has to be organic. I would argue it currently *is* organic, rather than *has to be* organic.

      I think you make an important point about about personal practices influencing professional practices. At face value, if we flip that, It would suggest the relative low numbers of academic staff (on the whole) developing/sharing open content, means their personal practices are closed as well. However, Viv Rolfe's research (DMU) and my research (in print) suggests most staff are actually sharing stuff, they're just not doing so with licensing and repositories. So whilst I question if this is actually open at all, it certainly does show a natural attitude towards sharing their content with others, and in my study, respondents were happy to share outside the Institution. So why aren't they? I don't think the majority are fundamentally against sharing, but instead....

      I think much of the *closed* (or just not open) practice is largely a result of two factors;
      1) lack of awareness (of CC, Jorum, etc)
      2) the various steps that mean engaging is time consuming (to research licenses, decide preferred development tool, upload, etc).

      Much of what this post suggests, is that if we can somehow integrate these various stages so academic staff don't have to go too much out of their way, then engagement would undoubtedly rise.

      So for me, rather than taking the horse to water, just bring the water to the horse :-)

  3. Very interesting points. And I do agree with you that until it's easier for the masses to engage OER will continue to be an entry in the Learning Horizon report--a technology innovation that's not so there yet.

    Is it really in our nature to share... so openly?

    The difference in sharing with a few friends and colleagues with sharing to the open web is that friends and colleagues are less likely to criticize, less likely to take credit for it or run away with it (they're not likely to be so ungrateful having borrowed something), but the open web is a different case.

    If I'm like to showcase a work for everyone else to see (not just friends and family) I'll more likely make it extra special--thus requiring more of my time and effort, then I'll have to figure out a way to sell it right (not much point in putting all those efforts if it's not going to be seen) then I'll have to brand it (so that everyone knows it's my piece of work--they're free to share though).

    so if I we're the horse and someone gives me water, I'd probably not take it (might be that I'm not thirsty yet) but do feel free to take me to water... I'll get thirsty eventually.

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