Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Is OER actually Open? Gratis vs Libre....

I've written intro posts to OER before here; I've written in slightly more detail visualising OER and liking openness to a dimmer switch; and I've even questioned whether OER is mainstreamed and sustainable.

However recently, the debate (if it is a debate) of 'Gratis' Vs 'Libre' in openness is gathering momentum. Admittedly I had to look up the meanings, but wikipedia does a useful job at distinguishing;
Gratis versus libre is the distinction between two meanings of the English adjective "free"; namely, "for zero price" (gratis) and "with little or no restriction" (libre). The ambiguity of "free" can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.

There is a definite difference between the two here, which have implications for OER. The real debate I want to consider is one that has been surfacing for some time, suggesting for something to be open, it should have no restrictions at all.

Stephen Downes initially identified that while 'open' may mean 'without cost', it does not mean 'without conditions'. He went on to suggest that 'open' should mean 'completely free' and even a sign-up/registration represents 'some sort of opportunity cost on the part of the user, an exchange rather than sharing' (Downes 2007, p32).

Supporters of this 'Open = Completely Free' argument suggest that OERs licensed with Creative Commons aren't really open if the Non-Commercial or Attribution conditions (for example) are present, as inherently they are 'costing' or 'restricting' the user in one way or another.

I don't pretend to be of a standing to challenge the intellect of Downes (who is?), and I actually agree that even a sign-up represents an opportunity cost, but things just aren't as cut and dry as this. Content isn't just open or closed, just like a dimmer switch for a light isn't simply on or off. There are varying degrees of 'on-ness', just as there are various degrees of 'openness'.
This is what my earlier post aimed to identify and somewhat explore. I also think that is the essence of what the Gratis Vs Libre concept is about. Neither is 'right' or 'wrong'. The tools we use, where we place the published output (and how people get to it), and the licensing we apply to that output, all impact on the degree to which an object is open, and each object will be more or less open than the next (as the two diagrams here attempt to visualise). David Wiley has picks up on Cable Green's recent frustrated email, and relates the free vs open concept to the frenzy of MOOCs. They're open.... to a degree. They might not be the easiest to pick up and reuse/remix how I see fit, but they're not completely closed.

I appreciate that there is more going on in this debate than just education, but as that's my experience I'll focus on it here.

Academics are (or at least should be) familiar with citing existing sources. Essentially, the attribution element of Creative Commons is just that. Perhaps not even as complex and therefore, not really a barrier preventing (re)use. The wider understanding of open licensing can be confusing (as I highlighted in a recent work), but  perhaps CC BY actually appeals to academics because of this academic-related activity (just a thought).

The non-commercial attribute (CC BY-NC) isn't a major factor effecting a large part of the education sector either, as much of our work isn't classed as income generation activity. Where it does impact though, is more enterprising initiatives within edu that are 'for-profit', or of course, full-on commercial organisations. I presume it is only these branches that are quashing the role of CC, because otherwise I don't see what the problem is. Reuse, on a 'not-quite-completely-open' agenda is fine with me. And it's fine with many of the staff new to reusing existing content. To us, such resources are indeed, still open. To the commercial sectors, not so open though. So this demonstrates that Openness is very much context-dependant.

Further to all of this, I wonder if there is an ethical issue related to selling a product that largely contains other people's work. An image, perhaps. A backing track, maybe. But I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable reusing a significant amount of content, whacking my company logo on and making a fortune off it. On the flip side, how would you feel if you released a piano/guitar piece of music with no restrictions, which Simon Cowell then went and splashed some X-Factor winner's vocals over and made Christmas No. 1 (making millions in the process)? Would you say, 'fair game, they can do what they like with it', or would you say, 'I want a piece of that fortune'? I wouldn't blame you if you did!

I suppose that's why I automatically reach for the NC badge. So I suppose to some degree, I portray my own expectations of reuse on the work I create, through CC. Is that such a bad thing?

One challenge I suspect might surface as HE evolves, is in treating students more as consumers/customers (yes, I hate it too). Perhaps Institutions will react to the 'student-as-consumer' model and act more like commercial businesses. This will present more challenges to non-commercial uses of CC licensed work, especially as they look to more income generation activities as a means to bring in some of the money have lost through changes in fee structure as well as fewer student numbers. Or, perhaps the licensing needs to adapt with the changing times? Who knows?

So which camp do you sit in? Are you happy with the 'open-but-some-restriction' model of using Creative Commons, or do you think there should be no restrictions at all? Do you think evolution will render NC redundant in education? How much do you like Simon Cowell (or indeed, the X-Factor)?


Downes, S. (2007) Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects. 3 pp. 29-44. Edge Hill University (2009) The Learning

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Guidance on using Social Media

A little while back, I had a few Twitter conversations and blogged about the need to develop some type of policy or guidance for academics on using Social Media.

From looking across a ton of different policies from the public and private sector, I felt that a policy was probably not the best way to go, especially as what I wanted was something more snappy and supportive. So, working with Neil Ringan (and a few others here at MMU), we've put together 8 key points that academics should consider when using Social Media, as it blurs the boundary across personal and professional domains. It's licensed with CC so feel free to reuse as appropriate.

(.PDF) Good Practice Guidance in the use of Social Media to Support Academic Practice

(.Doc) Good Practice Guidance in the use of Social Media to Support Academic Practice

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Technology, and the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Education

I first became aware of Chickering and Gamson's 'Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education' about 6 years ago (even though it was published in 1987), and it's often referenced in academic research. The principles are really common sense, but can provide some key aims/objectives for academic staff in developing an effective educational experience for students. The principles are as follows;
  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Uses active learning techniques. (a.k.a. "Encourages active learning")
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasises time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning
I always find it amazing that some of the really pioneering work that inspire education(alists) today, were actually researched/published a long time ago. I was 5 when these principles were published!

Anyway, later, Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) applied the use of technology to support/aid the original principles, with suggestions like asynchronous discussion to encourage contact between students and faculty. But.... I wonder how, with the more recent burst of the social web, that we can use technology to support the 7 principles today. Here's some brief ideas that are really targeting many of the academics I support at MMU (rather than the expert innovators);

1 Encourages contacts between students and faculty

Moving beyond the basics of email discussed by Chickering and Ehrmann, today we have a range of other means, such as Social Media (Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn). Commentators (Hall 2009) have long been discussing how students arrive at University and have (or develop) their own Personal Learning Environments consisting of tools like Facebook and Twitter, and further research suggests that students are already using these tools to discuss aspects of their education (Junco, et al, 2011).

Further to this, students can feel greater contact with Faculty through the provision of bespoke audio and video recordings, as they can see/hear their tutors ( Lee, Mcloughlin and Chan, 2007; Stewart & Doolan, 2008; Middleton, 2009)

2 Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students

Again, the possibilities of the web enable learners to not only cooperate through the likes of forums, or again social media, but also through collaborative tools like Google Docs or Skydrive. Then, there are tools like PBWorks (wiki) that can be great for supporting collaboration.

3 Uses active learning techniques

It may not be the most innovative thing, but I love the activity of blogging. Not just to be participating in a growing craze on the web, but because it enforces a reflective approach upon the author. And reflection, is a key skill in active learning! Obviously I use blogger, but many of my students have signed up to Wordpress as well, and they are seeing some of the benefits I find.
As devices have become more portable, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement can work well for departments without a wealth of resources available to them. For example, I encouraged students to bring their own laptops/tablets to class for a breakout activity to access and reflect on specific content on the web, then summarise for the rest of the class.

4 Gives prompt feedback

Many of the VLEs available today enable tutors to develop quizzes, with tailored feedback that students receive as soon as they complete the quiz. For example at MMU, Moodle allows tailored feedback for each answer to each question.  It's also possible to provide further feedback based on overall grade boundaries. The possibilities here are huuuggee.

5 Emphasises time on task

The developments in connectivity really makes the web available right in the palm of the learner. Literally. When we use tools like Twitter or Facebook, we can engage students in academic discussions when they're on the train, during their break in work, or even when they're eating their tea! Further, mobile friendly VLEs enable learners to access a whole range of course-related information/activities, anyplace, anytime. I can't wait for MMU to launch the mobile friendly Moodle next year!

6 Communicates high expectations

Engaging in some of the activities discussed above, we are promoting a positive working ethos amongst our students. Whether that's by communicating with students out-of-hours, or by providing things like assignment details in a short video. A lot of the time, when we make an effort, so do our students.

7 Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

Multimedia learning can not only support different ways of learning, it can build upon the Dual Channel Theory (Mayer & Gallini, 1990) of information processing by combining complimentary verbal and visual information (think VARK spectrum) to overcome/avoid cognitive overload and cater for different learning styles.

Perhaps the idea of the 'student as producer' takes this a step further, and even reinforces the high expectations mentioned previously? What about innovative uses of Second Life for students to develop fashion shows?

These are just some brief thoughts on technology and the seven principles. Do you have any particularly innovative approaches/experience to tackling any of the 7 principles? Get involved in the comments...


Chickering. A, & Gamson. Z (1987) Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association of Higher Education Bulletin vol.39 no.7 pp.3-7

Chickering. A & Ehrmann. S (1996)  Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49 (2), 3-6. Available online at:

Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2011). Personal Learning Environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8. Elsevier Inc.

Mayer, R. E., & Gallini, J. K. (1990). When is an illustration worth ten thousand words? Journal of Educational Psychology82(4), 715–726.

Hall, R. (2009). Towards a Fusion of Formal and Informal Learning Environments : the Impact of the Read / Write Web. Learning, 7(1), 29-40

Junco, R., Heiberger, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 119-132.

Lee, M, Mcloughlin. C,  and Chan. A (2007) Knowledge Creation processes of students as producers of audio learning objects. In Beyond Control: Learning technology for the social network generation. Research proceedings of the 14th Association for Learning Technology Conference

Middleton, A (2009) Beyond Podcasting: creative approaches to designing educational audio. ALT-J, Vol 17:2, pp 143-155 Stewart, W. and Doolan, M.A (2008) Listen to this: enhancing the learner experience through the use of audio within next generation technologies. Paper presented at the Higher Education Academy’s fourth Annual Conference, July 1-3 at the Harrogate International Centre.

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

'Throwaway' MOOCs

For a while now, I've been signing up to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and not really participating all that much. I'm a MOOC dropout!
I recently blogged some of my concerns, and feel a little better about myself by seeing @AJCann express some of his thoughts on his blog :-).

My latest strange thought processes about MOOCs presented itself when reading Alan's blog post. That is;

What is the mindset towards MOOCs doing to the wider views on our Education system? 

More specifically, I'm concerned that I'm not alone in treating these MOOCs with a somewhat throwaway mindset (not that I'm saying Alan takes this view, of course), and wonder if there would be further consequences that would seep out from our view of MOOCs to our general view of Education? OK perhaps this question is thinking more about the lay person, or the student, rather than many of the readers of this blog, but nevertheless, such close ties between the hype of MOOCs and the revolution of education could easily see cross-fertilisation in this sense.

Could this devalue our Education?
Is there any link at all?

I'd like to hear a psychologists perspective on this (and your's of course)....

Image CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Flickr User DeepLifeQuotes

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.