Graphic Notes from the Open Ed 2012 Conference in Vancouver

reflections on open

Graphic Notes from the Open Ed 2012 Conference in Vancouver

Graphic Notes from Open Ed 2012 in Vancouver – using iPad and Brushes

I can’t believe a month has past since the Open Education Conference 2012: Beyond Content – here in beautiful Van City. An opportunity to spend some time (and learn much from) some of the most creative, inspired and just good people involved in education today (at least from my perspective)! I am still thinking about (and taking time to follow threads on) a range of ideas and resources. A few of them:

  • Gardner Campbell’s keynote extravaganza: complete with a new term (I think) for a forgotten concept – transcontextualism (learning across contexts) – I suspect learners have been doing this for generations – but we haven’t valued it and don’t support it well in formal education environments.
  • the OER Research Hub, associated Evidence Hub and Dr. Robert Farrow’s experimental visuals – some of which I have shared already with colleagues here at UBC.

    There were other threads to follow: like the woman from Seattle who was a first-timer at the Open Ed conference and feeling a little like she needed a translator. I admired her bravery. And the MOOC bashing – which led me to read a piece by Sir John Daniel that offers an informed, critical perspective on the palpable discomfort felt by many (myself included). And, as my own institution prepares to offer up courses to the MOOC machine via Coursera, I can’t help but think this is an opportunity to raise the profile of some of the open practices in resource development, learning design and teaching that have gone largely un-noticed at my institution.

Parting Thoughts

I am wrapping up my participation the Open Ed course with a few reflections. Here goes:

  • Open educational resources are everywhere. The support provided to learners (either through institution based instruction or organization based guidance) plays a major part in making those resources useful.
  • Learning requires certain ingredients in order to take hold: new ideas, time to integrate, discuss and reflect and some guidance in the process.
  • Learners contribute to the creation of some excellent and relevant open educational resources – but I think this takes intention. I’m thinking about how much I have learned from the fellow bloggers in this course – I’ve added many of your blogs to my set of learning references. The intention ( I think) was to use blogging as a way to document our learning processes and (by accident or intention – not sure) we ended up with some really great learning resources that have contributed much to the OERs relevant to open education.
  • Facilitating learning requires both intention and support and this (at the meta level) requires resources – both human and infrastructure. Access to information is not enough to ensure learning – though, in many places, it is a good beginning.

The diagram below is a mapping out of some of my thinking about all of this. Not that I have it worked out. Not even close. Just trying to make some sense of the landscape and of the potential outcomes for learners. The red side represents the more formal learning, institutional environments while the green side, the more informal.

Learners Using Open Education Resources

click on the image to view full screen.

That’s all for now – thanks for sharing OpenEdders!!

Week10: The End of Poverty


I am reading The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs. The author presents an optimistic and compelling scenario for ending poverty by 2025– at least for one sixth of the world’s population who are struggling for survival.

Sachs describes the poverty trap simply and elegantly: the amount of capital per person falls from generation to generation due to a combination of factors like population growth, death of skilled workers due to AIDS and other widespread epidemics, lack of natural and physical resources and the sheer incapacity for families to save any money for investment – beyond just day to day survival.

What we need to do to end the poverty cycle for the world’s poorest, according to Sachs, is to raise the amount of capital per person above the level of subsistence to allow for saving and investment. Surprisingly, this could be accomplished for 0.7% of the GNP for the donor countries – dedicated to investments in infrastructure and human capital (health, nutrition, education).

Given that poverty is so tied-in with population explosion, Sachs asserts that “a concerted effort to end poverty in Africa would be the best guarantor to end the population explosion.” Parents in countries where the mortality rate is very high (like Africa) tend to have more children to compensate for the risk of death to disease. They are looking out for their economic interests by ensuring survival of at least one child by having many. As the economic health of the community improves, families “risk” having fewer children – confident that at least one child will survive. This leads to more investment in that child (through health care and training) and further (longer term) gains.

His solution (poverty-reduction strategy), based on the U.N.’s Millenium Development Goals involves 5 parts (not unlike some of the components of strategies for OER developments that we have been discussing):
• A differential diagnosis: local decision making for local investments.
• An investment plan: laying out exactly what is required and when.
• A financial plan: identifying current resources, costs and the gap that donors must fill.
• A donor plan – multi-year commitments to fund the gap identified in the financial plan.
• A public management plan: governance and administrative systems and structures.

The conditions that will lead to reduction in poverty: “child survival, girls’ education, women’s job opportunities, access to water and cooking fuel, access to family planning and contraception …” are (to some degree) supported by OER initiatives.

Sachs ends the book with a quote from Robert Kennedy, younger brother of US President John F. Kennedy, and known for his work with the civil rights movement:

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written in the history of this generation…”

Seems a fitting quote to share given the current state of craziness in the world.

Need to do some more thinking on this and how it ties together with the contributions we make to OERs… looking forward to reading more posts from the OpenEd cohort.

Weeks 7-9: Sustainability Questions

I appreciate Karen’s post from a week or two ago: focusing on questions of OER’s value to learners, particularly in relation to the recent discussion among participants in this course.

I, too, would like to approach the question of sustainability of OERs from the perspective of the learner. I agree with Jennifer that it is likely that OE learners approach content quite differently than traditional learners. However, it seems likely to me that both groups of students are goal-driven (although their goals an motivations are likely quite diverse).

The issue of motivation (described very nicely by Benkler in Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials) is at play for learners as much as it is for those who are creating the majority of the OER content.

At different times of the day, week, month,
year, and lifetime, we dedicate different amounts of our time, effort, and
creativity to different behaviors and interactions. At some points, we will be
goal oriented and seek to satisfy our material needs and desires. At others, we
will focus on maintaining our social or psychological well being through
interactions that cannot be captured by money, or, indeed, would be ruined by
the introduction of money-like having dinner with friends. Or sex.

He goes on to make the point that the whole question of motivation becomes somewhat trivial when the cost of participation (production) is low enough. Ultimately, it may be in the lack of our ability to adequately search, integrate and filter from such a growing body of OERs available from a simple Google search. I don’t think this is wholly a technical challenge – teachers. librarians, learning support specialists play a role here.

The support structures (both people and technical) may be where the sustainability issue runs aground. I think this does require a Commons approach rather than an institutional one – perhaps with institutional resources contributing to the Commons.

Educational resources will be created anyway – so the cost is assumed. Making them accessible (and perhaps improving them through adaptation over time) is really the issue – and it seems to me there are enough free tools – any one of which can serve as a sustainable, personal, shareable content repository. So what’s left? This relates to the human element – how are people supported in contributing/using these resources in a meaningful way? This is (perhaps) the most overlooked element in the whole discussion on OERs so far.

Here are some of the questions that I think come into play. For learners: How do I know what is good content? From whom do I seek guidance when trying to evaluate my goals? How will I know if I am on the right path to achieving my goals? How do I evaluate my learning? For Faculty: How will I know if the sharing of these resources serves my intended purpose/needs? What are my responsibilities in maintaining this content? How will I likely be successful in achieving my goals?

The videoclip below (authored by Michael Wesch and the students in his Digital Ethnography course at Kansas State U.) seems to be a fairly representative view of students in North American Universities today. OERs (or Open Education generally) may not solve the problems highlighted here, but maybe this is one good starting place for thinking about what OERs might need in order to be sustainable from a student’s perspective.

Week6: Copyright and OERs

Hurray for the Duke Public Domain people! Copyright comic: Bound By Law! I love it! My childish tendencies were revealed (yet again) as I flipped through this creative presentation of copyright law – a great example that cultural icons like the comic book can take a topic like copyright (which can be painfully dry, legalistic and very confusing) and weave it into something accessible and interesting.

I live with an artist and we have had many energetic discussions about art, public access, artists’ interests and the value of the art itself. Our usual argument goes something like this:
He (the economic argument): “If I give my art away or make images available on the internet via CC license, how will I be compensated for the considerable time, materials and expertise that went into making the original work?”
Me (the sampling effect argument): “No-one sees your art if it stays in the studio (basement) or is only occasionally on display at some gallery somewhere. What’s wrong with more exposure? If people like (and perhaps use) the images, don’t you think someone, somewhere will want to contact you, buy a painting or maybe commission something?”

It usually ends in a change of subject.

Though the idea of upfront funding to creators (presented in Pollock’s paper (value_of_public_domain.ippr.pdf) gives me some new fuel for discussion! According to Pollock (at least in the context of music sharing) access to it in the public domain would result in some net gains to society which could then be used to increase avenues of remuneration for artists resulting in “a win-win situation of increased access andincreased creativity, delivering social and commercial value as well as a freer and more dynamic creative industry.”

Over-protection of creative works (or intellectual property) doesn’t seem to benefit anyone – ultimately – except maybe the lawyers.

As highlighted in the Bound By Law document , Judge Kozinsky (US Course of Appeals) states “overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it – creativity is impossible without a rich public domain. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it is supposed to nurture.”

But what about authorship rights in the public domain?

Bobbe makes the point : “Once there [public domain], you have no rights to it and no one has to give attribution for the work. Anyone can take it and turn it into something they can copyright and keep behind the very barriers the educator was trying to tear down.”

I’m not so sure about this, Bobbe. Even in the public domain, the original creator/author is still acknowledged by the ethical among us. To disregard authorship would be plagiarism. I would imagine that people inclined to plagiarize would not be deterred by a CC license or (as has been documented many times) even copyright. The sad fact is (and this is true of human rights legislation or any other kind of legal attempt at “protection”) that protection of rights comes at a cost that is too high for the average artist, student, educator. It takes money, time and energy to fight the legal battle necessary to prove authorship. It seems to me that anytime you share your work with others (in whatever form) you are open to risks. However, the risk of not sharing is (in my estimation) much greater.

Should OER’s be simply put into the public domain?
That depends on the intent of the author. If the aim is to be as accessible to as wide a range of people as possible – then, yes, the public domain would remove any confusion or impediment associated with any kind of licensing. If your motivation is something else – then you probably want some kind of protection that fits with the values you associate with your work.