Meeting in the Middle: How to Manage Change in Universities

This blog post is rather small, but is quite significant, to me at least.

I’ve been sent the following paper.

Leadership is a critical element in change management in universities and can be viewed alongside management as distinct but complementary elements in the change process (Ramsden, 1998). Leadership, in Ramsden’s view, is about movement and change and has a long and rich history. It refers to individuals or small groups, is largely independent of positions, and relies on the skills of individuals, not formal power relationships.

I always considered management and leadership as synomymous.  However, this idea from Ramsden has really shifted my thinking.  I never really considered myself as a leader, certainly in the context of my role at my institution.  But in combination with my team colleagues, that is what we have become.  So how does one lead from a position of no authority?

On the other hand, management is about ‘doing things right’ and is undertaken by people in formal positions responsible for planning, organizing, staffing, and budgeting. It is a relatively recent concept generated within the contemporary bureaucracy.

‘Doing things right’ just makes me grin. I’d opt for ‘doing things well’ which recognises that there is more than one way to approach things, and there really is no silver bullet in environments of complexity, such as higher education.

Nevertheless, this distinction between leadership and management is quite fascinating.  Rick et. al. continue:

In a similar vein, Kotter (1990) distinguishes between leaders who set direction, align people and groups, and motivate and inspire to create change, and managers who plan and budget, organize and staff, control, and solve problems in order to create order. To many staff, universities have sacrificed leadership in adopting a managerial approach to teaching and learning. In the top-down approach to change management, the leaders are senior management, using their management positions to drive change through organizational policies and restructures.

This is my experience and accepted practice – only leadership can come from someone with a position of authority.  But apparently, this isn’t true.

In the bottom-up approach, leadership comes from individual staff who are personally inspired to make changes and to inspire others to follow their lead.

On reflection, this is something that my colleagues and I have done.  Not intentionally, at least in the beginning, but our working and collaborating with academics at the coalface has generated somewhat of a following.

In the middle-out approach that we have observed at Murdoch University, middle managers became leaders and, through a combination of personal inspiration and policy based on emergent practice, have changed the university environment sufficiently to force both high level policy change and change in practice among teaching staff. Leadership in the middle-out approach is exhibited through problem solving and facilitation – that is, getting the job done and simplifying tasks required of those at the chalkface.

This is quite interesting as it does differ somewhat from my experience.  Certainly, there has been leadership from middle management.  In fact, much of the institutionally impactful work I have been involved in was only possible through the leadership of middle management.  That arose through their insights into what we were doing, and the value it was offering.  They supported us by championing our work at higher levels and attempting to create a facilitative environment for us to scale the work we were doing.  This is where the bottom-up approach often fails – without middle management, it is very difficult to make meaningful contributions beyond small coalface groups.  This is by the very nature of the entrenched SET mindsets of higher education institutions.

The key point in terms of my experience is that the middle management take the lead from the coal-face.  Without the bottom-up initiation, I’m not sure the middle management are any the wiser – they traditionally are still too far removed.  Effective middle management are able to see meaningful contributions made bottom up, and look for opportunities to scale.  Of course, this buts up against the Reusability Paradox – the more you attempt to broaden reach, the less effective it will become.  In this way too, bottom up initiatives can lead, and scale to the levels that make sense.



The reusability paradox – WTF?


The reusability paradox.  How can reusability be bad?

When first presented with this concept last year, I must admit I really did struggle with it.  As a techhie, every fibre of my being compels me to focus on reuse.  Hence, the paradox.  After some weeks of struggling with the reusability paradox, it did start to make some sense, emphasis on some’.

I have recently revisited this concept, both in discussion with my (to be) PhD supervisor, but also in my day-to-day work as an Educational Developer/Lecturer/Educational Technologist.  My revisit has prompted this blog post as a way of recording some connections I have made to real-world examples of this phenomenon, and how this impacts my thinking about technology (re)use.  This thinking is far from crystalised.

David Wiley explains the reusability paradox in the context of reusable learning objects, and more broadly, the open content movement.  When this concept was initially presented to me, it was already positioned in terms of technology.  I find it easier to start with the original context in learning design.

What is the reusability paradox?

David explains it quite succinctly as:

A content module’s stand-alone pedagogical effectiveness is inversely proportional to its reusability.

He explains that the more contextualised a learning object is made, the more meaningful it becomes to that context.  However, it also means the learning object becomes less reusable to other contexts.  We have a trade-off situation – effectiveness (in learning) vs. efficiency (in scalability). David concludes:

It turns out that reusability and pedagogical effectiveness are completely orthogonal to each other. Therefore, pedagogical effectiveness and potential for reuse are completely at odds with one another, unless the end user is permitted to edit the learning object. The application of an open license to a learning object resolves the paradox.

I don’t think an open licence alone will resolve the paradox, but that is a discussion for another post.

The reusability paradox in the wild

So enough of abstract concepts – how does the reusability paradox play out in the wild and in other ways besides learning objects?

“I see dead people the reusability paradox.”

I often see the reusability paradox when working with lecturers – conceptually the same as David Wiley explains, but at a higher level.  My particular experience relates to the contention of reusing units of study between different awards/degrees.  This is pretty typical in the STEM areas – in my institution we refer to them as service courses (units).  I work with a science school, and a key foundation unit of study taught from the school is anatomy and physiology.  There would be a dozen or more degrees that require students to have a sound knowledge in this area.

Conventional management wisdom seeks to reuse anatomy and physiology units for health related-degrees.  This is efficient use of resources, right?  And “why re-invent the wheel?”

But before I explore those questions, let’s first take a step back for a moment.

The key criteria for reuse is applicability to other contexts.  If there is sufficient overlap or congruence with another context, then a reusability factor could be considered high, thus worthy of reuse.  Learning is very contextual, particularly when you factor, as David does, the underpinning of constructivist learning theory.  Learners construct new knowledge, upon their own existing knowledge.  This is very individualised, and based on each learner’s past experiences, and ways of thinking.

Learning designers have some tricks to help deal with such diversity, such as researching your cohort, conducting a needs analysis, and ultimately categorising learners and focusing on the majority.  Clearly, this is flawed – but this is how massification of education works.  For instance, if you are preparing a unit of study for nursing students, then you can make some reasonable assumptions about those students motivations (i.e. they want to become a nurse); their prior formal learning (i.e. previous units studied within a structured nursing curriculum); and even down to smaller groups such as pathways to study (i.e. were they enrolled nurses – ENs or school-leavers). These assumptions of course aren’t always correct.  Nevertheless, the key point is that this unit of study is reused by all nursing students studying for the Bachelor of Nursing degree.  A more or less reasonable trade-off between effectiveness and efficiency.

So let’s return to the example of an anatomy and physiology unit of study.  In this instance, we see different discipline areas, albeit health related, attempting to reuse a unit of study.  Despite all being health related, a paramedic student’s needs aren’t the same as physiotherapy students’, or medical science students’.  And while some disciplines hail from within the same school, others disciplines are situated elsewhere within the organisational structure.  Now, consider the diversity of the cohort.

So to cope with this type of diversity, I typically see three approaches:

  1. Make the unit of study as abstract (decontextualised) as possible making no assumptions about learners or their backgrounds, and “teach the facts”.
  2. Design the unit to cope with the highest represented context (i.e. the discipline with the most students).
  3. Design the unit of study to address multiple contexts, in an attempt to make it meaningful to multiple disciplinary groups.

In other words, make it meaningful for no-one; make it meaningful to the biggest group, and nobody else; or, try to make it meaningful for everyone.

Approach 1 is obviously ineffective, especially considering constructivist thinking.  You end up with students asking “why do I need to know this?”, or “that course was so dry and boring.”

Approach 2 while not quite as flawed as approach 1, can be less than ideal.  Particularly when the highest represented group is small compared to the entire group.  In such cases, the other groups feel marginalised, “I want to be a Paramed, not a Physiotherapist.”

Approach 3 can also ineffective because you can end up with a study unit that is incredibly complex.  This group of students does this, that group does that.  As the lecturer, you have to manage the mixture.  The students too can become confused about requirements. You can also run into “equity” type policy constraints, such as “all students must do the same assessments.”  This is an important point.  If you end up with such complexity, you really have to ask the question, “why not just have separate units of study?”

But solving this challenge isn’t the focus of my blog post.

The Reusability Paradox as it Applies to Education Technology

So does the concept translate to technology?  Yes it does!  And similar issues arise as a result.

Recall the three approaches I see people use to deal with the challenges of reuse for multiple contexts?

  1. Make abstract
  2. Contextualise for the largest group
  3. Contextualise in multiple ways for multiple groups

Let’s consider Approach 1

David Wiley says of the reusability paradox:

The purpose of learning objects and their reality seem to be at odds with one another. On the one hand, the smaller designers create their learning objects, the more reusable those objects will be. On the other hand, the smaller learning objects are, the more likely it is that only humans will be able to assemble them into meaningful instruction.

I think this statement has some “translatability” to an education technology context as:

On the one hand, the smaller developers create their learning technology tools (e.g. programming libraries rather than complete systems), the more reusable those tools will be. On the other hand, the smaller learning technology tools are, the more likely it is that only developers (and not designers) will be able to assemble them into functional learning technologies.

David Wiley also says:

To make learning objects maximally reusable, learning objects should contain as little context as possible.

To remove context is to make something more abstract – to take away intrinsic meaning or specific function.  Indeed this makes things more reusable, it also requires re-contextualisation.  In the context of technology, abstraction leads to dependence on the developer.

Let’s skip to approach 3.  With this approach, we end up with technology that attempts to do everything for everyone.  These technologies become so complicated to use, that people simply don’t use them.  My favourite example of approach 3 is the Moodle Workshop activity which is a “powerful peer assessment activity”.  I consider myself to have a reasonable grasp of technology, and yet after 45 minutes of tinkering with the workshop activity in Moodle, I gave up.  I have only seen 1 person at my institution use it.  It has so many options, too many options, because it tries to account for all the different ways one might attempt to embed peer assessment into their course.

So what about approach 2?  We reuse a learning technology without change – meaning it is focused on the majority of requirements (however that might be determined).  This is typical of COTS (commercial off the shelf) solutions.  This inevitably leads to functional gaps – “the system does this, but I want to do that.”  If the gap is substantial, it can lead to workarounds.

Does technology need to be reusable?

This is where I struggled last year with the reusability paradox.  If you can’t reuse a technology, then isn’t that a serious limitation?  Management are constantly looking to replicate successes – “This worked so well, so how can we use this in other areas?”

When I am creating/adapting/augmenting technology for others, I have to demonstrate “bang for buck” in terms of my time invested.  Does what I create, at least have to pay for itself in affordances?  I normally look for economies of scale, and the obvious way is through reuse – it is usable by X number of people.  Management/decision-makers get this – easy. However, technology can offer other economies.  For instance, depending on the technology, it may instead allow a specific group of people to do something much better, quicker, cheaper, or if its very innovative, something they couldn’t do before.  But that something might be very specific, so specific that it isn’t very reusable, and limited to a small audience.  Yet, if it still yields a net gain, is that bad?

What if a technology is so specific, it’s designed for just one person – yourself?


At some stage in our lives, we have all had to engage with some form of workaround to get from A to B.  Not just in terms of technology but life in general.

If you create a workaround, does it need to be reusable?  Perhaps not.  But what if you want it to be?  How can you go about it?

This is where my time (and thinking) ends for now.


The Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV) – Heatmaps of Student Activity


This blog post introduces an emerging implementation of learning analytics for lecturers that offers a novel approach to the visualisation of learning analytics within the Moodle LMS called the Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV).  The motivation for its design was born from the frustration of using the standard analytics reporting functions available in Moodle 2.2 by lecturers at my institution. While there are many efforts underway to improve this functionality within the latest releases of Moodle, at least for my own institution, these improvements are likely to be years away from adoption.  One emphasis with these improvements, is a greater use of graphs over tabular lists, most common in earlier Moodle 2.x versions.

What is MAV and How Does it Help Lecturers?

MAV takes a fresh approach to representing student activity within Moodle, by using heat maps (or click heat maps) as shown in the screenshot below:

Heat map of Resources Usage by Students using MAV
Heat map of Resources Usage by Students using MAV

In the example above, MAV is representing the number of students who have accessed various resources and activities on a Moodle course site by colouring the links accordingly.  In this way, MAV is focused on assisting with teacher reflection – identifying which elements of the course were used by the most students, and those which weren’t.  On presenting the above snapshot to the lecturer,  they responded: “Aaaah that’s interesting.  I’m surprised that as many students as that used some of the links.”  After further discussion, they shared the following comments:

I do feel that [the course] is guilty of that to some degree that we baffle them with BS and overwhelm them with far too many resources till they can’t separate the forest from the trees. I was certainly in two minds about even including most of those resource links at the beginning of the semester. I can certainly understand the results in the mid-term tests…they were compulsory

This is exactly the sort of teacher reflection that was intended by its design. Another excerpt from a Moodle page rendered using MAV from a much smaller postgraduate course is illustrated below.

Heat map of Assessment Resources Usage by Students
Heat map of Assessment Resources Usage by Students

The lecturer of this course has been experimenting with MAV for a few months, and had the following to say about what changes might be made in future offerings:

… academics as students may already know and understand about the feedback resources I gave them, that is why they didn’t bother reviewing. Now I’m thinking of removing them. But in saying that, it is up to me to provide the scaffolding they require, so I’m thinking I should leave it there because it is good practice, even though I know they aren’t using it, but could potentially use it for their own students.

When asked about MAV’s ease of use:

It was very easy to use MAV to get an insight into useful resources. I
would have no idea how to get this info through normal Moodle tools and
activity reporting.

Within higher education, learning analytics is predominantly used to identify “at-risk” students with the view to prevent or limit student attrition (Chatti, Dyckhoff, Schroeder, & Thüs, 2012; Lodge & Lewis, 2012).  Identifying learners “at-risk” is only one, albeit important complex issue to act upon.  MAV in its present form is designed to assist lecturers with teacher reflection and course learning design.

Why heatmaps and How Does MAV Work?

How to turn on and off the Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV)

Norman (1993) reminds us that “We humans are spatial animals, very dependent upon perceptual information. Representations that make use of spatial and perceptual relationships allow us to make efficient use of our perceptual systems, to think experientially.” By using heat maps, it allows the lecturer to visualise student activity spatially within the real-world Moodle site itself, rather than through abstract graphs or tabular totals.  This is not to say that graphs and tables are not valuable.  The heat maps are just an alternate approach, and one that is more accessible to a broader cross-section of lecturers, as it easy to use and requires no training or guided instruction – it simply leverages our anthropological intuition.  The screenshot (left) shows how the MAV can be switched on and off in the same way that Editing mode can be turned on and off – something even the complete Moodle novice quickly masters.

The tool presently has a modest list of configurable options, which it is planned to expand over time.  This expansion will be balanced with the value of keeping the tool simple and focused on the tasks that lecturers wish to perform.  At present, the options are largely focused on teacher reflection where lecturers are able to change the following properties of the representation:

  • display count of clicks versus count of distinct students
  • select specific weeks of the term for activity (incomplete)
  • select specific groups within the class
  • select either a heat map visualisation or a font size (think wordle or tag cloud) visualisation (for those with colour-blindness)

These options are changeable through the dialog (below) that is presented in the browser page, when the lecturer clicks on the Activity Viewer Settings option immediately beneath the on/off option in the settings menu (shown above).

MAV Settings Dialog within Moodle Page - Display Mode
MAV Settings Dialog within Moodle Page – Display Mode

How is MAV Implemented?

In its present form, MAV has limited affordance for action.  It like many other existing analytics tools focuses heavily on information, and not enough on supporting action.  For MAV however, this is surmountable due to its technical architectural design, which is somewhat unusual. MAV is not implemented as a Moodle plugin on the Moodle server, but rather as a browser addon on the lecturer’s computer.

Student activity in Postgrad Course Moodle Book Table of Contents, using MAV

This browser driven approach is not new.  SNAPP, a tool for conducting social network analysis within Moodle uses what’s called browser bookmarklets and has gained considerable popularity.  Another approach more closely resembling MAV was taken by Leony, D. Pardo, L. et al. (2012) who created a browser addon that “talks” to a related server component sitting along side Moodle from which it retrieves analytics data, and is then “drawn” into the Moodle page as a graph in a custom block.  To the viewer, the graphing block appears as a seamless part of the Moodle page, but in reality, the information has been synthesised between the analytics server and Moodle. MAV too has a server component that “talks” to a copy of the Moodle database and extracts statistics for display by the browser addon.  Where MAV diverges from the approach of Leony, D. Pardo, L. et al. (2012) is that it is not focused on the conventional approach of using a Moodle course block to display information.  Instead MAV treats the entire Moodle page as a canvas for conveying information, and in a way that is contextual to the canvas itself.

The problem with traditional Moodle plugin development is that “the LMS is commonly managed at an institutional level and it must support several courses, [and so] installing a customised module becomes a complicated procedure both technically and administratively.” (Leony, D. Pardo, L. et al., 2012) By using a browser addon and matching analytics server, “we simplify the task of providing visualizations to participants of the course, valuable for the execution pilot studies or the evaluation of visualizations.” (Leony, D. Pardo, L. et al., 2012)

This approach makes it easy to be agile and innovative without disturbing critical high-availability environments such as Moodle.  If the browser addon breaks in someway, it is easily disabled in the browser settings restoring the default Moodle functionality.  It is of course not without drawbacks.  To name a couple, changes in Moodle are likely to break the Browser addon and there are sure to be variations to consider between Moodle versions.  It is believed on the whole, that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  This thinking will be tested over time.

MAV and Open Source

MAV is licenced under the GPL, and will be made available in the coming weeks via github.  It is hoped that other educational institutions using Moodle may be interested in collaborating with the technology and the approach to refine and improve on the concept, and implement new ideas.  Research is planned around its design and use.  An announcement will be made when the source code is available and how people can get involved.

Heatmap of Undergraduate Course Home Page using MAV
Heatmap of Undergraduate Course Home Page using MAV

MAV in the Future

The following outlines a sample of ideas for MAV in the future.

Allow the lecturer to visualise the activity of individual students

As a scenario, consider an assignment extension request from a distance student.  In evaluating the request, one of the things lecturers often consider is the amount of work the student has done leading up to the due date, offset by any mitigating circumstances that may have prevented such work.  Using MAV, the lecturer could select this student through the MAV settings, and see how often the student has accessed relevant aspects of the course, when, and perhaps in what sequence.  This would assist the lecturer in making an informed decision about the validity of the student’s extension request claims.

Provide affordances for action based on the analysed data within MAV and Moodle

As previously mentioned, MAV presently offers little in terms of affordance for action on the visualised student activity.  One useful function supportive of teacher reflection would be to assist lecturers in capturing their reflections on their course sites while they view the heat maps.  In the examples given at the start of this post, the lecturers were analysing the student activity and making decisions about how they might change their course in the next offering.  What if lecturers could click on a resource that they wish to change in the future, and make notes within the Moodle site itself using MAV.  The change and their thinking is captured immediately as they reflect, without having to venture somewhere outside of the Moodle site and thus breaking the natural flow of their reflective activity (Villachica, Stone & Endicott, 2006).  A small icon could be attached to the resource or activity as a reminder that a change is to be made.  Then when they need to update the course for the next offering, sometimes in a years time, the information is readily available and still in context of their course site.

Integrate contextual information in Moodle pages in other ways besides heatmaps

As an example, wherever a student name of number is displayed on a Moodle page, provide a hover menu or visual that provides additional information about the student.  This could be things like their contact details and other info from their profile page.  But it could also be a range of information from other sources (see next point).  This also marks a shift from the low hanging fruit that is clickstream data to information that embodies more depth.  As a contextual menu to each heatmap link, options could be provided to see a list of students who haven’t, and perhaps just as importantly have accessed a given resource.  These students could then be contacted via mail merge either encouraging them to engage with the resource or activity, or praising them for doing so.

Using the browser addon architecture to integrate and aggregate other information services and data

The browser addons need not be limited to aggregating/synthesising information from only the server analytics component and Moodle.  Opportunities exist to integrate MAV with other initiatives at my institution such as the Student Support Indicators Project (SSI).  This integration can work in both directions.  Identify using MAV which students have not made use of critical resources or participated in activities, and then look up their student success factors through the SSI.  Similarly, on identifying a student within the SSI who is showing lower engagement with their course, redirect the lecturer to the Moodle course site with MAV switched on, and only showing the elements of the course used by the student, giving further detail to their behaviour.


Chatti, M. A., Dyckhoff, A. L., Schroeder, U., & Thüs, H. (2012). A reference model for learning analytics. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5/6), 318. Retrieved from

Leony, D., Pardo, A., Valentın, L. de la F., Quinones, I., & Kloos, C. D. (2012). Learning analytics in the LMS: Using browser extensions to embed visualizations into a Learning Management System. In R. Vatrapu, W. Halb, & S. Bull (Eds.), TaPTA. Saarbrucken: Retrieved May 25, 2013, from

Norman, D. A. (1993). Things that make us smart: defending human attributes in the age of the machine. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Villachica, S., Stone, D., & Endicott, J. (2006). Performance Support Systems. In J. Pershing (Ed.), Handbook of Human Performance Technology (Third Edit., pp. 539–566). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Week 10: OERs – The dream

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. Our instructor has asked us:

What are your impressions of Open data, open research, open books, open journals, open government? Is this the reality or just a dream? Can this happen in your school or business environment? What are the implications? Blog about this.

Is this the reality or just a dream?

Taking a deeply philosophical analysis of this question, consider the following quote from Social Evolution, Psychoanalysis, and Human Nature by Daniel Kriegman and Charles Knight in relation to Freud’s evolutionary biology:

Freud’s view of human nature is generally consistent with the experience of capitalist competition and its adjunct philosophy at the extreme, social Darwinism. The inevitable tendency of human motivation is toward competition. Inevitably struggles ensue and yield a “survival of the fittest” dominance hierarchy.

Information has increasingly become a commodity that can be bought and sold and therefore has inherent value.  Modern online companies for instance provide free services in exchange for information about their customers.  This information is often aggregated and/or sold to other companies.  In the context of competition and survival of the fittest, sharing information is counter-productive.  By this reasoning, you are giving wealth in the form of information to your competitors thus strengthening their position while weakening your own.  Western society is largely based on capitalist models, so it is no wonder there is such an emphasis on ownership of information such as in the form of copyright.  So one could argue that while there is an economy based on information as a commodity, it is not likely that these open initatives will become mainstream.

The paper continues with discussion of the more modern theories of social evolution and reciprocal altruism:

… [Trivers] developed the concept of “reciprocal altruism.” This fascinating evolutionary construct undermines the simplistic notions of social Darwinism and provides a basis for reviewing the erroneous thinking underlying the misuse of evolutionary theory in support of reactionary dogma.

The concept of reciprocal altruism suggests that there may be a bio-genetic basis to altruistic behavior. At first glance, altruistic behavior, which in evolutionary terms reduces the altruist’s fitness and leads to an increase in the recipient’s fitness, appears to be in contradiction to the basic self-serving survival interest of any organism. However, the concept of reciprocal altruism is based on the notion that an altruistic act is often returned to the altruistically behaving organism.

So contrary to Freudian views, and considering the development of OERs as altruistic, perhaps there is hope for OERs afterall. The authors of the paper continue with what they believe to be the prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism.

What can be demonstrated by the evolutionary analysis are the prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism: high frequency of association, the reliability of association over time, and the ability of two organisms to behave in ways that benefit the other…   The prerequisites for the evolution of reciprocal altruism are present in our species and have been shown in other species to be capable of shaping extremely cooperative behaviors.

So in the context of these open initiatives, will they involve frequent and reliable association and interaction between collaborators; and will such association and interaction be mutually beneficial?  It would be interesting to conduct an analysis of OER initiatives to see whether those with the above prerequisites perform better than those that don’t.  From my perspective, while the production of open resources can be mutually beneficial to contributors, I suspect the first two elements (frequent and reliable association) are under-represented in OER initiatives.  To me it implies frequent and ongoing collaboration for mutual benefit.  With the current rate of change in modern society, long-term collaboration does not seem likely in many instances.  Consider your own work initiatives over the past 5 years.  My guess is many have a duration of no longer than a year or two before moving onto something else.  So can these prerequisites be artificially contrived, or must it be organically arranged by chance? Perhaps the slow uptake of OERs and open initiatives is a result of lower naturally occurring situations with the right prerequisites for reciprocal altruism?  Time will ultimately answer this question.

A final quote from the article: “Once a cooperative strategy begins to invade a population, it should be able to outcompete the selfish strategies.”  On this reasoning, perhaps there is hope for a future of more open sharing of information and co-operation for the benefit of all.

Week 9: OERs – Accessibility

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. Our instructor has asked us:

An interesting perspective to accesibility is the US’s America with disability Act Section 508. Is there as similar act in Canada? Do we need a similar act or are existing laws sufficient to address the disabled? What would these laws be? How does this apply to your own context? Blog on!

Instead of responding from the Canadian perspective, I’ll instead respond as an Australian.  Australia does have a provisions in law commensurate with the USA accessibility disability act.  It is known as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.   So that Australian Government agencies adhere to the DDA, all Australian Government websites must adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guideslines (WCAG) version 2.  This is inline with the USA’s Section 508 which too “… requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities.”

However, unless I have misinterpreted both the Australian DDA and US Section 508, interestingly, in both cases the requirement is only for Government websites, not corporate or hobbyist sites.  This seems rather peculiar to me.

Recently my employer has renewed it’s commitment to accessibility guidelines with a push to improve the publishing of Moodle course websites.  Although the Moodle course websites are not published publicly, they still provide a service to enrolled students and need to be inclusive of all learners including those with disabilities.  Being a government owned university, I believe it is bound to the same rules as described above as part of the DDA.  The interesting challenge in my context is that our academic staff are not web publishing experts – they are discipline experts teaching Engineering, Business, Science and so on. Having to grapple with the WCAG standard and ensure compliance is going to be a difficult challenge for some staff who are not tech-savvy.

There are a wealth of tools available online and commercially to assist with ensuring adherence to accessibility guidelines, such as the WCAG.  I’m not sure whether they are targeted at web publishers or whether there are options for those less tech-savvy such as the example given above.  While it does take extra effort and time on the part of the author, I can imagine the appreciation felt by those who can then access your material using their screen-readers for instance with greater ease, than is otherwise possible.

In terms of how they laws could be improved or extended, I wonder whether Section 508 or the DDA could be mandated across all corporate websites for instance?  If the government is able to ensure accessibility, then with the appropriate education, and supporting technology, why not the rest of the community?

Week 8: OERs – The copyright question

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba.

Our instructor has asked us:

Is the preponderance of different types of licenses making it easier to reuse resources, or is it adding another layer of complexity which in effect works to place a barrier on using oer? In other words, are all these divergent licenses actually restricting the ways in which resources can be reused? Would it be simpler if we just had copyrighted work, which had to be cleared and public domain work which was free to use. Post your reflections in your blog.

The short answer is ‘yes’, all these divergent licences are restricting the ways in which resources can be reused, and ‘yes’ it would be simpler if we just had copyright work which was all rights reserved or public domain.  But would it be better without them?  I’m not so sure.

If you consider the original purpose of copyright as declared in the US constitution and referenced by wikipedia article about copyright being “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” you would have to wonder what all the fuss is about.  It seems quite reasonable to allow limited periods of exclusivity as a reward for one’s labours.  Sadly, the original intent of copyright has been perverted over many years to serve as a means of protecting corporate incomes.  As reported by Wikipedia, the limited period in particular has ballooned from a period of less than 30 years for an individual in 1790 to 120 years for a corporation in 2008.

So why have permissive licences become so tangled and complicated in terms of the variations in restrictions?  Are we making it all too hard for ourselves?  I think part of the answer relates to altruistic protections ensuring that work shared for the common good of all is not exploited for profits.  For example, licencing your work for non-commercial use (cc-nd). Another example is the share-a-like licence which requires any derivative works propagate the same licencing terms, ensuring they too remain in the public domain.

The other major aspect to this is the egoboo factor.  The term egoboo refers to the ego boost one receives as a result of sharing their work with the world (online).  The creative commons base licence and all derivatives ensure attribution as a requirement to using one’s work. This reminds me of a blog post relating to a presentation by George Siemens where he discusses the concepts of connectives and collectives in the context of networks.  He suggests that while humans like to be social and part of things larger than ourselves, to a certain extent, we also crave autonomy, individualism, and recognition for our own personal contributions to the wider network in which we reside.  Egoboo is part of this desire.

Denying ourselves a sense of individualism and a source of egoboo may well be more counter-productive than negotiating the complex array of open licences. In short, without the flexibility afforded by the range of licencing options, there may well exist significantly less desire to share works at all.  It is perhaps another one of life’s necessary evils.


Week 7: OERs – Integrating OERs into learning and teaching

This blog post relates to my study of Open Educational Resources as part of my Emerging Technologies for Learning Program of study at the University of Manitoba. Our instructor has highlighted eight steps to OER integration as described by the OER Handbook.   The eight steps are:

  1. Assess the validity and reliability of the OER.
  2. Determine placement within the curriculum, if not already done. Note that some OER integration may be abandoned at this point if the OER relates poorly to the rest of the curriculum.
  3. Check for license compatibility. (See License Incompatibility in Licensing for more details).
  4. Eliminate extraneous content within the OER (assuming the license permits derivatives).
  5. Identify areas of localization (see Adapt OER).
  6. Remix with other educational materials, if applicable (see Adapt OER).
  7. Determine the logistics of using the OER within the lesson. For example, you may need to print handouts for learners. In other cases special software may be needed.
  8. Devise a method of evaluation or whether the currently planned evaluation needs adjustment (see Evaluation for more details).

We are asked to consider what these steps mean for our context.

Assess the validity and reliability of the OER

A natural first step is to consider whether a given OER fits with your overall strategy or goals for your artefact.  Does is convey the message(s) that you wish to share with your readership?  Is the OER coming from a trusted source, with suitable rigour in terms of critical analysis?  This step is essentially the first pass filter of weeding out inappropriate OERs.

Determine placement within the curriculum, if not already done. Note that some OER integration may be abandoned at this point if the OER relates poorly to the rest of the curriculum.

Assuming that a given OER is valid and from a trusted source, where does it fit with the over design of your OER.  While abandonment may be necessary if the OER does not neatly fit, it may also be the case that the overall design may need alteration instead, if the OER is a particularly noteworthy addition to your artefact.

Check for license compatibility. (See License Incompatibility in Licensing for more details).

This step in my mind should be second in this sequence – I’d eliminate an OER on the basis of an incompatible copyright licence before even considering it’s place in my final artefact.  I’d pay particular attention to the permissions of the licence.  Does the OER require adaption or derivative works to fit with my context?  This will help inform what type of licence is necessary to use the given OER.

Eliminate extraneous content within the OER (assuming the license permits derivatives).

I see this step and the former (licence compatibility) working hand-in-hand.  What possible changes might this OER need, and permissions do you have?  Alternatively, you can direct your students to portions of the work, without having to redesign it yourself.

Identify areas of localization (see Adapt OER).

Again depending on whether you have permissions to adapt the OER, you will want to identify aspects of the OER that do not fit with your context.  You could take a copy of the OER and make direct changes to it if the licence permits.  Alternately, you could remix the OER with other material, or your own.  See next step.

Remix with other educational materials, if applicable (see Adapt OER).

If you do not have permissions to alter the OER, you can still include it, along with other materials to help localise the content.  For instance, provide your own examples or analogies that accompany the OER, or use elements of another OER with more appropriate examples.

Determine the logistics of using the OER within the lesson. For example, you may need to print handouts for learners. In other cases special software may be needed.

This is an important step.  In my context, consideration of our complex blended environment is important as we have all of distance, face-to-face and international students in many of our courses.  Devising OERs that can be utilised by such diverse cohorts is important.

Devise a method of evaluation or whether the currently planned evaluation needs adjustment (see Evaluation for more details).

The process of creating an OER should be based on a cyclic development process that includes feedbacks that allow for continuous improvements.  Without this, an OER becomes dated and eventually superseded.  To keep an OER up to date, and relevant will require continuous review and refinement.  Wikipedia is a good model for this where the content is constantly reviewed and improved.

Our instructor also asked us to consider any additional steps to include.  Before embarking on the integration, you would want to carefully consider the format and technology used to publish your resulting OER.  This may also influence your choices of OER for integration with your artefact.  For example, if you are planning to support mobile platforms through epubs, and you are incorporating an OER from a website that does not permit redistribution (only linking), then this could prove problematic.

Many of these steps are co-dependent, especially around the licencing so allowing for some flexibility in your processes for integration will make for a more effective process.