Open, education, institutions and culture

Today the good folk at my institution’s library (and others I assume) are running a symposium “exploring current practice and future potential for open educational practice and libraries”.

As most of the participants are employed by institutions (and the libraries thereof) there appears to be much interest in how institutions can support, encourage and enable open education.

In the tweet stream for the symposium (#oeplib) the question of Open Educational Culture arose. I think there’s some value in the idea, but I want to explore some of the dissonance that exists within institutions and their progress toward an open educational culture.

Main questions arising from the following are:

  1. Perhaps institutions have to think a bit more deeply about the type of culture that organisational artifacts (like policy) are creating?
  2. If promoting open is your thing, then disciplinary cultures may be a more worthy starting point?
  3. Before attempting to create an Open Educational Culture, perhaps folk should experience more closely those disciplinary cultures that have been doing open for some time?

Culture

So what is culture? The literature is replete with reams of responses to that particular question. The one that the pragmatist in me prefers is the one offered by Martin (2006) (and many others)

Simply put, organisational culture is “the way we do things around here”

Martin goes on to drawn upon Schein’s work on organisational culture, in particular the idea that organisational culture consists of three levels: artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions. Summarised in the following table.

Culture is the way we do things, and we do what is easy. We do what the artifacts, values and underlying assumptions of our organisations make it easy for us to do (with some exceptions).

Three levels of culture
(Adapted from Schein, 1992, p. 24)
Level Description
1. Artifacts Visible and feelable structures and processes

Observed behaviour – difficulty to decipher

2. Espoused beliefs and values Ideals, goals, values, aspirations

Ideologies

Rationalisations – may or may not be congruent with behaviour and other artifacts

3. Basic underlying assumptions Unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and values – determine behaviour, perception, thought and feeling

Policy as an artifact and the tensions it reveals

At a certain level within any organisation it is policy that

What type of open educational culture does a policy embody when it includes something like the following?

examines the suitability of learning and teaching materials to be made available as OERs on a case-by-case basis

This appears to be a culture that mirrors Peter’s description of our own experience (emphasis added)

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. It seems likely that is linked to concerns about reputational effects. Open resources and practices will surely influence perceptions of the institution among those who access the open material and possibly more widely if they ‘talk’ about it. 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. That will require substantial effort to vet material that is opened and provide an incentive to restrict access to anything that might diminish that impression.

It seems to be a culture where the motives for OER tends more toward what Falcolner et al (2016) label reputation building, rather than other possible motives such as open access to knowledge or enhancing pedagogy. Falconer et al (2016) place the reputation building motive for OER into a group that “share a marketisation model of higher education, based on cost-benefit analysis” (p. 99).  Rather than a second group that repudiates “maketisation as an appropriate model for higher education and are committed to a value of “academic commons” (p. 99).

As Falconer et al (2016) identify these motives “are not necessarily independent and exclusive. It is entirely possible for projects to have several motives at once” (p. 100). The people behind such policies are likely to be motivated more by the second group of motives, but the cultural reality of contemporary universities requires consideration of the first group.

A necessity which seems to say quite a bit about the culture of an institution.

It’s a problem, especially if you see that a reputation building motive “is one that imposes fundamental limits on adoption of OER unless there is a radical shift in attitudes to reuse and repurposing” (Falconer et al, 2016, p. 102).

A radical shift that is perhaps suggested by the title of @tegalex’s talk at the symposium later this afternoon – “Libraries, access, and openness: Is it time for Copyright disobedience?”

Disciplinary culture versus institutional culture

In terms of culture and its impact on OER, Falconer et al (2016) suggest that

The rules that are most likely to influence OER release are those surrounding disciplinary ways of working, intellectual property rights (IPR), and institutional quality processes. Subject disciplines that already have a tradition of sharing teaching resources across institutional boundaries are more likely to regard openness favourably and integrate it into their practice. (p. 101)

But I wonder if there might be a broader influence for disciplinary culture, especially if the intent is to move beyond Open Educational Resources (OER) toward Open Educational Practices (OEP)?

In working on Albion et al (2016) we were reflecting on our prior experience with “open”. My work with open started in the mid-1990s when teaching Information Technology with engagement with the Linux and early Internet/Web communities. Communities that had an open culture. So when teaching a course in Linux Systems Administration it made sense to make everything about the course open: textbook, website, discussion forums etc.

20 years later and I’ve been working within preservice teacher education. While the teaching discipline does include a number of teachers who actively share their resources, it isn’t a culture that has breathed “open” in the same way that large parts of the Information Technology discipline. My anecdotal experience is that talking about open educational practices is significantly easier when talking with IT folk, especially those involved with open source etc. Discussions involving people from disciplines without that exposure to open practices in their daily work practices has to start at a much more foundational layer.

A very simple example is talking to people about my project integrating Github with the Moodle Book module. People who use GitHub like participants in open source software projects or increasingly open research get the idea and why it might be a good idea. People without that experience, don’t understand version control, but more fundamentally, they don’t understand the value of release early, release often.

Creating an Open Educational Culture – lessons from open source?

The reputation building motive for open appears at some level either not to appreciate, or not to grok ideas like release early, release often. Perhaps suggesting that those within institutions attempting to create an Open Educational Culture should start by spending some significant time within an existing disciplinary culture (or perhaps a diversity of such cultures) that accepts and practices open.

If you don’t understand open, can you effectively create an Open Educational Culture?

Of course this is complicated by the observation that there are far more than “Fifty shades of open” (Pomerantz & Peek, 2016).

References

Albion, P., Jones, D., Campbell, C., & Jones, J. (2016). Open Educational Practice and Preservice Teacher Education: Understanding past practice and future possibilities. Submitted to SITE’2017

Falconer, I., Littlejohn, A., McGill, L., & Beetham, H. (2016). Motives and tensions in the release of Open Educational Resources: the JISC UKOER programme. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(4), 92–105. http://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2258

Pomerantz, J., & Peek, R. (2016). Fifty shades of open. First Monday, 21(5). http://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i5.6360

OEP and Initial Teacher Education: Moving on from the horsey, horseless carriage

Horsey, Horseless Carriage

Earlier this week four colleagues from three different Universities submitted an application to an internal grant scheme around Open Educational Practice. What follows is an excerpt from that application.This idea evolved out of some earlier thinking. We find out how we went in April.

If the project is successful, it needs to be open and connected. Hence pointers to interesting and related folk and work more than welcome.  Especially suggestions for potentially provocative “thought leaders, disruptors and other ragamuffins”.

Why?

The project team are all teacher educators. We come from three different institutions and bring to the project three courses from different institutions focused on the Technologies learning area.

We believe that open educational practices (OEP) have the potential to help teacher educators transform learning and teaching and respond to challenges unique to initial teacher education. We believe that OEP can help improve course development for USQ’s new Bachelor of Education. We believe that, successfully implemented, OEP can help create a generation of teachers for whom OEP is embedded in who they are and what they do.

But OEP has a horsey horseless carriage problem (Bigum, 2012). Most use of OEP is designed not to “disrupt the smooth running routines” (Bigum, 2012, p. 35) of existing educational practices and institutions. Open textbooks are still textbooks. Open courses are still courses.

We want to escape the established practices associated with OEP and initial teacher education. We want to answer questions such as:

  • What might ITE look like if it were transformed with OEP?
  • What are the challenges and potential benefits to such a radical transformation?
  • How might those be addressed and harnessed in the development of courses in USQ’s new Bachelor of Education?

 Aim

We aim to develop a range of potential scenarios where every aspect of the USQ course EDM8006 might be radically transformed through OEP. A particular focus of that transformation is on how participants from EDM8006 and the other two courses taught by project members can fruitfully engage in OEP that will connect and engage pre-service teachers across courses within institutions; across tertiary institutions; with practising teachers; with the research community; and, with the broader education profession.

 How?

To achieve this goal we plan to

  1. Be provoked by thought leaders, disruptors and other ragamuffins.
    Lure with loads of moola people that have leapt off the bleeding edge of OEP and ITE to talk via video conference and engage with the project as they can and like. Task them specifically with identifying the “dogmas of the past” holding back OEP within higher education and proposing how we might think anew, and act anew.
  2. Find out what’s already going on around OEP and ITE.
    ITE has, to varying levels, already been engaging in OEP. It’s been used in everyday practice and written about in the literature. We need to be aware of what has gone on and what is the current state of play. To try and get some idea of the propensities and dispositions within ITE.
  3. Develop an initial set of scenarios for EDM8006.
    Focused on this specific course and drawing on the inspiration of the previous two steps develop a range of different scenarios around how OEP can transform EDM8006.
  4. Share the scenarios with different stakeholders.
    Via a range of methods share the scenarios with anyone and everyone involved with the EDM8006 course, the institution, ITE, OEP, and anything else we can identify. The aim is to have the scenarios undergo critical review to identify where they will clash with established assumptions, who else might be interested in these scenarios, how they might be implemented, and hopefully much better suggestions.
  5. Distill what has been learned into a set of findings and recommendations.

References

Bigum, C. (2012). Edges , Exponentials and Education : Disenthralling the Digital. In L. Rowan & C. Bigum (Eds.), Transformative Approaches to New Technologies and student diversity in futures oriented classrooms: Future Proofing Education (pp. 29–43). Springer. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-2642-0

 

Open educational practice beyond the institution?

The following is a continuation of prior ponderings about about open educational practice (OEP) and open educational resources (OER) in the context of a potential institutional grant application. It’s an attempt to make sense of some of the relevant literature I’ve read and figure out how that might influence the nascent project. In particular, it suggests that some of the OER/OEP literature is limited due to its focus on: OER; the individual; the institution; and, on searching as the means of discovery.

It leads to a nascent idea of a project to address these perceived limitations.  i.e. it’s a project that is not limited to one institution; it’s not focused on the individual actor, but on the connections between them; and, it’s aiming to explore if and with what impacts the OER/OEP can be embedded into existing networks.

Defining some terms – OER and OEP

The OECD (2007) defines OER as

digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research (p. 10)

The focus on open resources is perhaps most widely represented in the concern over the cost of textbooks for University students. A problem for which open textbooks are seen as the solution.

This is problematic and is explored more in the next section.

One reaction to these problems has been interest in Open Educational Practices (OEP). OPAL (2011, p. 12) define OEP

as practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning path. OEP address the whole OER governance community: policy makers, managers/ administrators of organisations, educational professionals and learners.

The Capetown Open Education Declaration offers

open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning

Bossu, Brown and Bull (2014, p. 5) offer this observation on the relationship between OER and OEP

OER movement has evolved from being mainly focused on increasing access to digital educational resources, to being focused on supporting educational practices and promoting quality and innovation in teaching and learning through Open Educational Practices

Beetham et. al. (2012) suggest that OEP encompasses the following

  • Production, management, use and reuse of open educational resources;
  • Developing and applying open/public pedagogies in teaching practice;
  • Open learning and gaining access to open learning opportunities;
  • Practising open scholarship to encompass open access publication, open science and open research;
  • Open sharing of teaching ideas and know-how; and,
  • Using open technologies.

Limitations of the literature and practice

There’s a fairly large and growing literature around OER and more interestingly OEP. What follows are some initial observations drawn from dipping my toe into that literature.

The resource focus

While Bossu et al (2014) suggest that the OER movement has evolved to focus on OEPs it’s hard to kill off the textbook idea. Adam Croom analysed the abstracts from all the OpenEd conferences since 2012 looking for use of the words “OER” and “textbook”. Abstracts with “textbook” rose from under 10% to over 30% from 2012 through 2015.

The reasons behind this are likely to be many and complex. However, an obvious driver is the cost of textbooks. Even Kanye West is concerned about the cost of textbooks

This resource focus is also illustrated by the on-going fetish for providing repositories that will hold all of the open content (textbooks) and make it easy for people to find and re-use that content. Even Amazon is getting into the OER repository “business”.

Mike Caufield outlines two reasons why the repository approach “has been a disaster”

  1. “assumes that learning objects are immutable single things, and that the evolution of the object once it leaves the repository is not interesting to us”; and,
  2. “it centalizes resources, and therefore makes the existing ecosystem more fragile”.

He also offers this lesson

products need a marketplace but living things need an ecosystem. Amazon gives us yet another market.

Mike also describes what he sees as a solution in the idea of connected copies.

Bossu et al (2014) concluded that

OEP have potential to lead to more open pedagogical practices and innovative cultures. In other words, a narrow focus on OER per se may not be enough for educational institutions to fundamentally embrace and establish effective open pedagogical practices (p. 16)

It’s just not textbooks where the “product” (resource) focus is evident when it comes to open in education. MOOCs are perhaps the most visible “open” practice from Universities. The “course” (open or not) is yet another product for the institution to market.

The individual focus

A lot of the OER/OEP work has been focused on individuals. Why are they adopting OEP? What are the challenges they face?  It is work that identifies “a need for systematic staff development within institutions, which could address these very practical needs” (Stagg, 2014, p. 155) and other support mechanisms such as (Stagg, 2014, p. 161)

  • an understanding of how to search for, evaluate, and select openly-licenced content for a specific learning context;
  • a working knowledge of Creative Commons and Free Cultural Licences, as well as Public Domain, including knowledge of licence compatibility, and the inherent obligations that each type of licence carries;
  • a working knowledge of the local institutional policies and priorities;
  • the ability to integrate the newly-created OER into the curriculum; and
  • a supporting mechanism (such as a repository) to store the newly created OER, and allow for global discoverability

If OEP requires an ecosystem, then the ecosystem has to involve more than an individual. It’s more than just me using OER in my course(s). Sustainable and effective OEP would appear to require that there be multiple people involved. My OEP relies on the presence of others engaged in OEP.

A major challenge here is that University teaching and the systems that support it are not well known for supporting the sharing of teaching practice. For example, the limited visibility and sharing of resources between courses within the same program.

The institutional  focus

This is a problem that has become another focus within the OER/OEP literature. Some examples include

the absence of mediating artefacts or a supportive institutional environment can inhibit a practitioner’s ability to engage fulsomely with OEP (Stagg, 2014, p. 161)

As Smith and Wang (2007) point out, for an OER initiative to be sustainable in the long term it needs to create value for the host institution. (Bossu et al., 2014, p. 21)

Stagg (2014) uses the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) as inspiration to develop a continuum of OEP. The CMM and this work is based on the assumption that (Stagg, 2014)

An effective organisation seeks to understand repeatable conditions and processes which support projects, and then extend an understanding of the processes to optimise them within an organisational context. There is a realisation that a systematic, defined approach is required, especially when diffusing a new organisation-wide idea. The maturity of process is “the extent to which a specific process is explicitly defined, managed, measured, controlled and effective” (Paulk et al., 1993, p. 21).

A similar evidence-based model could be developed that would provide guidance to open practitioners in a systematic manner, repeatable across contexts (p. 156)

This is not to suggest that there isn’t value in institutions addressing the barriers that prevent adoption of OER/OEP. But the point is that the ecosystem in which OEP occurs involves more than the individual institutions. Beetham et al (2012) argue that the “greatest potential benefits are communal rather than tied to the competitive advantage of individuals or institutions”. The on-going neo-liberal/techno-rationalist trend in the management of universities brings with it a strong focus on institutional advantage, distinction, and efficiency. A focus/mindset that will find it difficult to recognise, let alone value and act for communal benefits. Arguably, this techno-rational mindset is the reason why MOOCs and the most prevalent university engagement in “open”. MOOCs are seen to support institutional distinction and advantage.

The techno-rational mindset is also not likely to deal well with the complexity inherent in an ecosystem. Beetham et al (2012) argue

One effect of openness is to uncouple people in time and space, making connection easier, but complex negotiation of needs, understandings and perceptions more difficult. This is true for learners and teachers, for institutions and (potential) students, for researchers and stakeholders in their research.

Searching and making connections

Masterman and Wild (2013) make a common point that

Searching for potentially suitable resources is arguably the most time-consuming aspect of OER use

Masterman and Wild (2013) identify that “the quantity of items returned by a search for OER remains problematic”. They describe Google searches returning “unmanageable quantity of hits”, but at the same time hiding resources that may reside in “OER collections which are concealed behind registration pages”. OER collections also suffer due to their much “smaller quantity and scope” that reduces the likelihood of successful searches. Mike Caufield has a related, but slightly different take on this problem. There just isn’t enough good quality stuff out there.

 

Hence the focus has been on institutions providing better repositories and on helping more people develop more OERs. But is that enough?

What about better connecting OERs into the existing ecosystems of learners and teachers?  If you are teaching (or learning about) X, then there is probably an ecosystem where you and others that teach (or learn about) X “live” (at least occasionally). Would it be easier to find OERs associated with X, if the OERs were connected into that ecosystem?

For example, If you’re a teacher educator in Queensland focused on the digital technologies subject in the new Australian Curriculum, then chances are that your “ecosystem” includes: the QSITE mailing list; the Australian Curriculum website; and, Scootle. If that ecosystem included links etc. to relevant OERs, then you’d probably be more likely to stumble across them and perhaps interact with them?

The Australian Curriculum website currently supports this type of connection by providing direct links to Scootle resources (where available) from content descriptions (e.g. ACTDIK001). This allows school teachers who are tasked with help students demonstrate understanding against this content description to quickly see relevant resources.

At least two interesting questions arise

  1. Has this integration of resources into the ecosystem of teachers helped address the search problem?
  2. Is it possible and beneficial to connect into this ecosystem OERs that are designed to help pre-service (and perhaps in-service) teachers learn about how to teach?

What might be interesting to do?

Let’s start with some assumptions and a question.

OER are living objects that reside within an open ecosystem. OEP is about living within an open ecosystem. The learning and teaching context within Universities tends not to embody these views. How might/can a group of initial teacher educators use these assumptions to engage in OEP?

Context

At the moment, teacher educators from three separate Australian Universities have expressed interest. I believe all are involved in some way with the teaching of courses intended to help prepare pre-service teachers engage with the Technologies learning area.

This includes two “groups” of teacher educators who are from the same institution, who are teaching somewhat related courses, but that are in different programs with different focii. It also includes teacher educators teaching essentially the same course, but at fairly different institutions. Includes courses that have been run for a number of years, and at least one course that has to be designed and taught for the first time by the end of 2016.

The Technologies learning area includes the digital technologies subject. Due to this and their personal backgrounds, each of the teacher educators have some level familiarity with digital technologies. They are all (at least at some level) familiar with the “practitioner ecosystem” (i.e. QSITE, Australian Curriculum website, and Scootle) used by both pre-service and in-service teachers.

Project aim

Encourage the sustainable engagement with OEP amongst teacher educators by exploring and opening up existing practices of the group. Using an approach that rejects some of the standard assumptions around of OER/OEP. i.e. it’s not limited to within one institution; it’s not focused on the individual actor, but the connections between them; and, it’s aiming to explore if and with what impacts the OER/OEP can be embedded into existing networks.

Project activities

An initial set of activities might include:

  1. Map and analyse
    1. Personal beliefs and capabilities to engage in OEP.
    2. institutional beliefs and capabilities to engage in OEP.
    3. the ecosystem in which each operates.
  2. Identify and implement barriers and opportunities to open up individual ecosystems
    What exactly gets done depends on the findings of step 1, but possible examples include:

    1. Sharing existing content via github or similar;
    2. Broaden single course social bookmarking across institutions; and
    3. Exploring how to embed OER/OEP into existing teacher ecosystem..
  3. Analyse, evaluate, and reflect on the experience.

 

References

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open Practices: a briefing paper. Retrieved from https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/file/58444186/Open Practices briefing paper.pdf

Bossu, C., Brown, M., & Bull, D. (2014). Adoption, use and management of open educational resources to enhance teaching and learning in Australia. Office of Learning and Teaching. Sydney, Australia.

Masterman, L., & Wild, J. (2013). Reflections on the evolving landscape of OER use. In OER 13: Creating a Virtuous Circle (pp. 1–8). Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/3361645/Reflections_on_the_evolving_landscape_of_OER_use

OECD. (2007). Giving Knowledge for Free. doi:10.1787/9789264032125-en

OPAL. (2011). Beyond OER: Shifting Focus to Open Educational Practices. Open Education Quality Initiative. Retrieved from https://oerknowledgecloud.org/sites/oerknowledgecloud.org/files/OPAL2011.pdf

Stagg, A. (2014). OER adoption: a continuum for practice. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11(3), 151 – 164. doi:10.7238/rusc.v11i3.2102

Learning with an open course – a case study?

It seems the open educational resources and open courses are one of the next big fads. I realise that they’ve been around for a long time. There is the formalisation of open courses arising out of the MIT and similar projects leading to the OCW consortium and more recently there’s been idea of a MOOC idea arising from work by Seimens, Cormier, Downes and others. Even before all that there were various ad hoc examples of open courses (of different types) made available through the work of various “lone rangers”. The fad cycle around OER/OCW has been in an upswing for a while, lots of formal institutional interest and increasingly there are grants being awarded. In fact, it appears that including OER/OCW in a grant title seems to be a good thing at the moment. Sure sign of a fad?

Personal aside

I was one of those lone rangers way back in the mid-1990s with the courses in systems administration and operating systems I designed and taught at CQU. The websites for these courses were open to everyone. As part of that openness, I made archives of the Systems Administration course available for download and was happy for folk to put up mirrors of the site. An interesting side effect of this practice is that while I can no longer find any record of those course sites on institutional servers, I can find the mirrors of the courses elsewhere. Sadly though, most of the links seem to be broken and pointing to the wrong place. Well that was a copy of the course site from 2000. In trying to find a better mirror I came across this nice comment. You can still find the study guide/book from the course online.

Eat your own dog food

I’m always skeptical of “movements” when the fad cycle has kicked in an institutions start making them part of their “strategic” plans. So, I’ve been wondering how good some of the institutional open courses are and whether there might be some insight gained from using one of the courses as a basis for learning. In my case, it’s a bit of eating your own dog food. As someone who pushes for courses to be open, perhaps I should try them more as a student.

Now I have started (but not completed) some of the Downes/Siemens MOOCs and will probably try and connect with their next one around PLEs/PLNs. In this case, I’m more interested in the open courses that are probably better termed open content. e.g. the MIT courses where the content is available, but there really is no instructor or cohort doing the course with you. What’s it like working through one of those courses on your own?

I’ve been pondering this for a while, then last weekend, I came across this course on “Empirical Research Methods” from CMU. It just so happens that this is one of my weaknesses. So, working through this course seems a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

Once the thesis is more complete, I plan to work through this course and use the blog to reflect on the experience and what I experience and what learn.