OEP, institutions and culture

Some colleagues and I are embarking on a project exploring how teacher education might move toward adoption Open Educational Practices (OEP). A project that is currently being driven by a funding from one University, and which might lead to an application for funding from another institution. In part, we’re thinking about how teacher education in each of these two institutions can adopt OEP, what that might look like, what the barriers be, and how might we go about moving toward something like this that won’t fade away once the money runs out or we move on.

As it happens, over the last week or so there’s been an on-going discussion about the role of institutions and/or culture in OER. A discussion that started with Mike Caufield’s reflections and were then picked up by many, including Jim Groom, Stephen Downes and Tim Klapdor. A discussion that provides an interesting way of looking at what we’re thinking about. In the end, I think we may need to draw upon the following from David Wiley and Cable Green, which echoes a discussion Leigh Blackall and I had back in 2010.

Making stuff last – institutions

One of the first posts in this discussion by Mike arose out of a debate around the value of Open Educational Resources as a stepping stone to Open Pedagogy. The idea being that increasingly universities are creating policies etc that are embedding OERs (typically in the form of open textbooks) into organisational practice. However, while all this has been happening open pedagogy (I’ll label this OEP here) has been waiting, waiting for its turn. That waiting has made the people more interested in OEP a touch cranky with the focus on OER and they’re heading off to do their own thing.

The problem Mike identifies comes from his personal experience

But here’s what I know. The death of the Persona Project was the norm, not the exception. It happens all the time. Where I work right now had a great student and teacher wiki up in 2008. But it got nuked in a transition. The Homelessness Awareness wiki I worked on with Sociology students (and demo’d with Jim Groom in 2011) is ghost-towned. The disability research one has been slammed by spam. And even more than that, each time I work with a professor on these things (most recently on a Colonial Theory wiki) we spin up from scratch, and leave it to rot afterwards.

And leads to the following

People make things possible. And we have such great, great people in Open Pedagogy….But institutions, they are what make these things last.

And in a another post, to the question

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Making stuff last – culture

Stephen Downes response is

You can’t depend on institutions. And in a sense, you don’t need them. Institutions aren’t what make tests and exams happen year after year. Institutions aren’t what guarantee there will be course outlines and reading lists. What makes this last – the only thing that makes this last – is culture.

And in a more detailed post he adds

I’m not saying we should never build things. What I am saying is that we cannot count on institutions – organized economic and political units – to ensure the lasting value of these things is preserved…Because sooner or later someone is going to object (or forget, or simply retire), and the good work goes down the drain.

Local institutional experience

So how does local institutional experience match up with this discussion.

Institutional moves to be open

Peter brings up the experience of our local institution. An institutional early adopter of open within an Australian context. Peter sums up the situation as

In principle being open is acknowledged as a good thing but in practice it seems not to happen much and to be not easy to accomplish within the institutional processes.

And suggests that at least part of the problem is

It seems likely that is linked to concerns about reputational effects….Thus the interests of the institution seem to be best served by ensuring that what is made open is carefully managed and quality assured to present the best possible impression.

Perhaps indicating that our institution hasn’t yet been successful at achieving what Mike observes

is that OER has done the hard work of bringing OER work to the center of the institution, rooting it in institutional policy and practice in a way that Open Pedagogy hasn’t been able to do

But also highlighting Downes point in that these moves for the institution to be open have been driven by people at the senior levels of the institution. However, that high level interest has resulted in a number of different bolt-on projects, but have yet to translate into changes into organisational policy or practice.

For example, institutional policy still does not make it easy (or even possible) for an academic to place a Creative Commons license on their teaching materials and release it. Institutional policy is such that the university retains copyright. In addition, any such sharing seems to require using the institutional version of Equella. A system not conducive to easy, widespread sharing and discoverability.

My moves within institutions to be open

Archisuit example from Sarah Ross

The 2010 discussion around open and how to get there between Leigh Blackall and I arose out of my work on BIM. A Moodle module that aids teachers manage use of individual student blogs. BIM is perhaps the ed tech equivalent of an Archisuit. An example of a response to a hostile architecture. An example that Mike uses as an example of the sort of workarounds that open pedagogy people have been working on for ages. But then argues that

Being against the institution may be necessary, but it is not where you ultimately want to be. If you want real change, styrofoam padding isn’t going to cut it. Eventually you have to remove the damn bars from the bench.

The difference with BIM is that it is part of the LMS. It’s an accepted part of the institution. Perhaps indicative of how while my current institution hasn’t yet succeeded with embedding open into the policy of the institution. There are glimmers of it within the infrastructure.

However, that still hasn’t encouraged vast swaths of adoption. 8 of the 10 course offerings that have used by BIM in 2014/2015 were courses I taught. On the plus side, I was surprised to find the other two courses and I believe they have continued using BIM this year.

The Moodle Open Book project is another “archisuit” example. The aim is to connect the Moodle Book module (used to manage/display collections of web pages within Moodle) to GitHub and thus enable production of OER and more interestingly OEP. There’s even some “working” code.

But as I talk about both of these workarounds, what I’m struck by is the huge “cultural” leap required to go from not using blogs/github to thinking about how blogs/github might be leveraged in an interesting OEP way. Even the initial development and application of BAM (the non-Moodle predecessor) of BIM was driven by a fairly uninspired pedagogical application – address the student corruption of a “reflective journal” assignment using Word documents.

The impact of culture

That said, I think the adoption of BIM in two other courses at my institution is potentially largely down to a change in broader culture. In this case, not the idea of open, but instead the movement of blogs into a common (even passe) part of contemporary culture. My understanding is that the person who has adopted BIM in their teaching has embarked on projects that have used blogs.

Blogs in 2016 aren’t as strange and unknown as they were in 2007 when the ELI Guide to Blogging came out. In 2006, when I tried to explain BAM, most of the time was spent trying to get people’s head about blogs, blogging, and RSS feeds. In 2016, most people are familiar with the idea of a blog and blog posts. Though I’m guessing they are probably still a bit uncertain about RSS feeds.

If blogs hadn’t caught on like they did, BIM would be dead. Culture plays a part.

Removing the bars from the bench: easy for OER, harder for OEP

As Mike points out “the assumption of the textbook is baked into every nook and cranny of our institutions”. A bit earlier he identifies the proprietary textbook as “the largest structural barrier to open pedagogy”. He congratulates the Open Textbook folk for having “willing to engage on the fronts of policy and practice at once” and suggests that the open pedagogy folk need to engage more in “issues of policy, law, funding, architecture, institutional support” in order to “remove the bars from the bench”. I think it’s going to be much harder for OEP to do this, perhaps even leaning more towards the impossible end.

Textbooks are a core part of universities. Everyone is familiar with them. The institution can talk and deal with textbooks at a general level. Whether they be proprietary or open. They have a collection of pages, making up chapters, making up the book. There are headings, images, activities, etc. They are a model that is understood across all parts of the institution. Hence textbooks are something that can be easily discussed at an institutional level. Sure those strange folk in the Arts will have different content than the Engineers, but the notion of a book is general.

OEP on the other hand is – I think – incredibly more diverse and contextual. My initial experiments with BAM took place almost 10 years ago in another institution in a different discipline. Today I use BIM – the functionality of which is a direct translation of BAM into Moodle (hence the acronym BIM) – at a different institution in a different discipline. I don’t use the BIM functionality. I have a army of kludges that I employ to support the OEP I think works better for my current students. ds106 makes perfect sense in it’s context and purpose, but engineers at my institution are not likely to understand it at all. The type of OEP we might engage in with pre-service teachers is likely to be very different from nursing students. In particular, if our aim with OEP is for the pre-service teachers to engage more with the teaching profession.

The novelty and diversity of OEP would appear to be in stark contrast to the familiarity and standardisation of textbooks and OER. I don’t think institutions (or many people) will deal well with that combination. I’m not sure continuing to ride in the back seat will be sufficient.

That said, if we’re going to do anything around OEP within an institution, we’re going to have to consider Mike’s question, if we want that work to have a chance of surviving.

How can we re-architect our institutions to bring open practice into the center of them, rather see it as a bolt-on?

Both/and, not either/or

But at the same time, I think we also need to ask ourselves a similar question about the culture of teachers and teacher education. While there’s been a significant increase in sharing online amongst edubloggers, Twitter, online resource sharing etc. This still seems to be the minority. There are still schools that constrain the use of online technologies and sharing. There are schools where it is assumed that the school retains copyright of teacher-produced material. In an era of standardised testing and concerns about teacher quality, there are issues around sharing resources, and especially sharing the messy processes involved figuring out how to teach these learners effectively.

Even if (and a big if) we’re able to embed OEP into our courses within our institutions, unless we can connect that work sustainably into teacher practice the full benefits won’t flow.

Which has me wondering, where are the sweet spots in teacher practice and our courses where it would be easier to introduce OEP and make the connection between practice and ivory tower?  What about in your teaching, where are those sweet spots? Is there any overlap?





One Reply to “OEP, institutions and culture”

  1. Reblogged this on OEP @ UQ & USQ and commented:

    Thinking about sustainability and the need to think of both our institutions and teacher practice/culture. If we don’t then anything we do is likely to be difficult to get started and even more difficult to maintain, especially if we wander off.

    Perhaps thinking about and identifying the sweet spots where integrating OEP into our teaching and broader teacher practice is where we need to look?

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