OER dystopia?

Sadly the live stream for David and Stephen’s OER discussion broke down during the post-lunch session so I had to wait until morning to catch the uploaded audio recordings. The final session of the day promised to be the most interesting for me, and I potentially liked the idea of putting some questions to the experts so that we could hear their views. But the questions weren’t that great. Essentially along the lines of:

  1. What is your most dystopic future scenario for OER
  2. What do you expect to happen in the future for OER
  3. What would be your perfect future for OER

I didn’t catch the moderator’s name, but he elaborated on question 1 by raising a concern that what’s happening in the UK now, government investing in OER to raise the profile of the UK. This was a little uncomfortable for him. Hmm, I wonder why? There was an implied element of state control being bad for OER. As a Brit, and involved in a state-funded, well JISC funded OER project I felt I couldn’t let that pass.

Public money investment in opening up educational resources is a good thing isn’t it? After all, public money paid for the creation of a lot of content in the first place. A more dystopian society would surely suppress the release of educational resources, prevent the education of a majority, and control access to information. The investment of around £5M in OER by the JISC is in part a response to the UK being relative latecomers to OER, and if this investment raises our profile in this area then I’m all for that. The UK has a good track record at innovation in technology enhanced learning so I’m sure we have a lot to contribute to the OER agenda.

For what it’s worth, here are my answers to the three questions above:

Worse-case scenario? Either no content being released/shared by anyone because they’re too afraid they’ll get the licensing wrong, else no content being released because everyone foolishly thinks they can sell it.

Most likely scenario? We’ll do what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always got. A wide range of resources available under a spectrum of licenses to reflect the diversity of uses. There will always be some good freely usable stuff, some good stuff you’d like to use but it’s not available under a suitable license, and some good stuff that will always be commercial.

Best-case scenario? World peace and unlimited access to all knowledge and the resources to apply that knowledge for the betterment of human kind.

Easy 🙂

OER and library websites, time for integration

Tony Hirst’s post on Open Educational Resources and the University Library Website has been doing the rounds recently. It’s a good question he poses, why aren’t academic library web sites giving as much prominence to open educational resources as they do to books and journals? My answer is simply, because historically it’s not been libraries that worried about those kinds of educational resources. While libraries were cataloguing books and journals, other parts of the central institutional services were managing learning objects, multimedia resources, e-learning content, whatever you want to call the stuff. These resources were locked up in WebCT or some other VLE/LMS and were discoverable there, at least in theory. Teachers and their students knew, and still know, where to look for books & journals and where to look for other kinds of learning resources.

Tony’s point however is still a good one, it’d be great if you could have a single search interface to everything. But typically universities for example have separate systems that don’t always talk to each other. Shame. However it cuts both ways. You should be able to search the library catalogue from within a VLE. I tried out the OU website search Tony mentioned. It doesn’t seem to search the library holdings. You have to use the library catalogue for that.

It’s time that library and learning system integrated better. If FriendFeed can aggregate potentially billions of tweets, blog posts and status updates, then why can’t a single institution’s systems share their content?

Downes & Wiley discuss OER

Are you watching Stephen and David discussing open educational resources? It’s fascinating so far, with their different styles, but I’m not sure I’m hearing much to help move us forward on open educational resources. But it’s still early in the day in Vancouver (albeit late in the UK).

We’ve had quite a bit of semantic debate so far, so maybe the guys are just warming up. But how many potential producers of OERs are listening to this discussion, hoping for insight from two highly respected individuals, but are instead feeling just a little confused by what the issues are.

On the other hand maybe they’re just getting on with producing and releasing great content, selecting from a spectrum of licenses that reflect the different contexts in which content can be used. As a consumer of content I’ll make the judgement about what content is right for me and my purpose from all the content that’s licensed according to my needs. If I search content in Flickr for example I can choose whether I want to see content to use commercially or content to modify, adapt, or build upon. I don’t have to see stuff that’s not useful to me. Why should discovering educational resources be any different?

David and Stephen will be coming back refreshed from lunch soon. So let’s see where this goes. I just hope we don’t get into any false dichotomies where open educational resources all have to be either like this, or like that, because it’ll never be that black or white. Creative Commons understands this, that’s why there’s a range of licenses for a range of conditions. They may not cover every context just yet, but it’s the best framework we have so far.

Reusing iTunesU content

I felt compelled to bring this blog out of semi retirement (another blog shelved thanks to Twitter) to write about iTunesU. There’s been some interesting but sometimes ill-informed discussion on the JISC-REPOSITORIES mailing list about this topic, based largely on gut feeling that something about iTunesU just ain’t right. That’s a shame because as a model for reusable content it’s a good one.

I write in context of our own iTunesU presence, the University of Warwick. Here’s our home in iTunesU. We’re quite proud of it, and it seems to be working for us. By that I mean we seem to be reaching an audience thanks to the marketing profile that being on iTunesU brings. And for us, largely, that’s what it is just now, a marketing opportunity to tell people more about who we are and what we do. Plus of course it’s a chance to explore this as a publishing channel.

But that’s not the only publishing channel we have. We of course also publish learning & teaching resources for our own students via our home-grown web publishing system, and we’re constantly looking at new ways of publishing content. It’s a publisher’s dream perhaps to be able to reuse existing content in new ways without having to constantly create new content. And we’re also trying to find ways of being publisher of open access resources, whilst at the same time trying to track resource use to enhance the learning experience for our students. So it’s a balancing act between requiring users to log into our systems so their needs are known and their experience enhanced as a result, and simply making everything open for anyone. It’d be great to be able to do both with the same content in one location.

So we’re doing what we can with RSS, and RSS with enclosures, or podcasts they’re more commonly called. Here’s one of our iTunesU RSS feeds, a collection called ‘Slow Poetry‘ by Professor David Morely. You can subscribe to this feed with your favourite RSS reader. When it’s rendered by iTunesU it looks like this…


But not everyone likes iTunesU, which is fine. Because iTunesU is just an RSS agregator, then if you don’t like it use a different aggregator. The same feed can be rendered in Google Reader for example, and it looks like this…


But wait, as I said, we also publish content for our own students, so in our web publishing system the very same content looks like this…


It’s the same content, just deployed in different ways. The underlying content, MP4 movies in this case, is at the same location or URI in each case. So that’s one of the myths in the recent JISC-REPOSITORIES discussion busted. As an added bonus Apple are not being evil as they do not ask for exclusivity when publishing content in iTunesU, so content can be redeployed elsewhere, which fits with our publishing strategy nicely.

Another objection was that iTunesU content is not discoverable by Google. Well, of course it’s not true as this and this shows. Now granted you might not want to search iTunesU content via this route – the search facility inside iTunesU is actually quite good – but you can if you want to. But regardless it’s an unfounded myth that it can’t be done at all.

Lastly, the original poster on the JISC list asked why would anyone want to publish in iTunesU when you can publish on YouTube and use the whole web/web2 infrastructure. Well, why not reuse content and do both, as we have done. That’s the beauty of the web and reusable content