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.


Week 6: OERs – Reuse…Revise…Remix…Redistribute…

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 “How does [internationalisation & localisation] apply to OERs? And how can you adapt your own OER content to address issues of local and foreign culture?”

As with the creation of any artefact, consideration of the intended audience is paramount.  What do you assume that they already know? What do they need to know?  What are their life experiences? What is their cultural background? How will they use the artefact?  In terms of OERs, one of their strengths is the licencing that enables you to repurpose, revise, remix, and redistribute taking into account the context in which the body of work is to be used. So I guess the trick when producing OERs is to design them such that they are as easy as possible to repurpose for different audiences, rather than trying to make your work accessible to everyone.

The localisation of work is not necessarily limited to a region or ethnic culture.  It can in-fact include organisational cultures.  I am considering my final project for the course and what body of work to produce.  I’d like to create something applicable to my place of work.  This means ensuring it is localised to my workplace culture, and aligns with the organisational goals, language (what organisations don’t have their own acronyms and idioms for instance?), facilities and so on.  So re-purposing an OER can mean combinations of reuse, revision, remixing, and redistribution such that the final product meets an organisational need.

Factors to consider when localising content can be obvious such as language.  If an artefact was written in Spanish as an example, it would be completely inaccessible to the likes of myself who can speak nothing other than English.  While other factors are far more subtle, yet still significant.  For instance, it is common to use an analogy (or examples) to teach a new concept or idea by drawing a parallel between a known concept and a new one.  What if the concept you assume to already be known by the learner is not known at all?  So your choice of analogy must be localised to match the context of the learner, or else it becomes meaningless. While there are a growing number of software tools available that will translate one language to another, the more subtle nuances such as analogies embedded within bodies of work are harder to address. Returning to my initial point of designing OERs such that they are easy to repurpose for different audiences, it would be useful to be able to mark-up within an OER, elements that are contextual, such as analogies so that they can be interchanged to meet the needs of a particular audience.  So when translating a body of work from one context to another, these marked-up areas can be replaced with something more meaningful for the intended audience.

The future of OERs and the current publishing paradigm

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.

I recently read a blog post of a class mate relating to the future of OERs.  It has got me thinking further about this very topic and how technology is affecting the way we share online.

Stu says of OERs in five years time:

Instead of OERs what will we be talking about in five years?
We will still be talking about OERs in five years.  What I think we will be talking about more is the increasing ease of quality creation and the increased ease of distribution. Publishers are already under pressure because of this and that pressure will continue. Apple’s recent release of iBooks Author is a great example of this trend.  Even though the tool requires that content be distributed within the Apple ecosystem the ease of use and quality level achievable is astounding.

I tend to agree with your thoughts on what we will be talking about more in five years time – easy creation and distribution of artefacts.  You mentioned the pressure on traditional publishers as a result of the growing accessibility of self-publishing, and the introduction of new technology and services creating new markets for creators to sell their wares, such as Apple’s new iBooks.

I doubt the traditional publishing fraternity will rest on their laurels and will fight tooth and nail to retain their business model and profit margins as any corporate entity would do.  Of course, it may also mean a changing of the guard where the old tyrants are replaced with the new – Apple may well become a new breed of corporate control of the world’s intellectual property.  Money perverts altruism every time, but I am a cynical one.

Stu continues with a discussion of officialism in publishing:

First…should some OERs be “official” and others “unofficial”?
I don’t think it matters.  The most important thing for students is to have the skills and tools to find, verify and then appropriately use the resources they locate.  It does not matter if they are “official” or not.  In fact…the idea that a resource or piece of information is “official” I believe tends to lull people [students] into a state of complacency.  Everything should be looked at with the appropriate degree of criticism and be improved by the application of that criticism.

It would seem to me that it is only of value when there is trust in whomever the official may be.  Trust is a weakening commodity in the 21st century as our information age has given rise to many vectors by which to mislead and deceive others.  Fraud is rife online with all manner of cons being perpetrated.  Of course, as the information age provides the means for fraudsters, it also provides a counter in terms of being able to validate and verify what we are being told online – cross-referencing information from other sources.  Consider plagiarism detection systems for instance (http://turnitin.com/). But what do you do when you cannot verify information? For instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (http://www.abs.gov.au/) publish aggregated information based on census surveys.  The data however is not available to be validated against the reports produced.  I’m not suggesting at all that the ABS has fabricated any of their reports, and to my knowledge, they have quite a high degree of trust in the community, but there is no way of independently verifying the information they publish.  It is an Australian Government Department, which makes it more difficult (not impossible) to fabricate information.  Large international companies however have far less scrutiny and that is where I am very mistrusting.  Google’s algorithms for search results are a highly guarded secret, and yet it is the most widely used searching tool in the world.  Who audit’s Google’s practices here?  They have been accused in the past of manipulating the results.  The EU has started an Antitrust investigation into Google.

When answering the question “Are OERs just a cute kitten?”, Stu asks the following rhetorical question: “[Is there such a thing as a well trained cat?]”.

The mention of kittens (or in the case of this little anecdote cats) reminds me of a comment made by a colleague who described the management of academic staff (faculty) akin to herding cats.  So my gut tells me the answer is “No!”  More seriously, while managing people who are effective critical thinkers is very challenging, these people serve an important role – questioning is what purported to be “official”.


Week 5: OERs – information accuracy and integrity

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.  This week our instructor has given us free reign for our weekly blog topic, in part asking “What are some of the issues that bother you about OER?”

Reflecting on the past 5 weeks of my study I recall my very first blog post and a comment by a colleague and good friend David Jones.  David suggested one of the problems for OERs was that everyone has their own preferred method of introducing a topic, and so there is a predisposition to creating anew rather than re-using or re-purposing resources. This fundamentally undermines the principles of OERs.  While I did concur with David’s comments, and drew a connection with this idea, and more broadly the ideas of George Siemens around Groups and Networks, I do have another related issue that I see for the future of OERs.  The predisposition of the teacher is only one small (but significant) part of a broader collection of varying factors that influence the design of an OER.  These varying factors generally are what I would call the learning context.  I have blogged quite a bit about the significance of learning context in the past.

I believe the context of the learner is a critical input to the design of any learning artifact.  You wouldn’t create an online course for learners with poor Internet connectivity.  When doing instructional design, a typical

There are just so many factors to consider when designing a resource, not least of which the learners themselves.  Learner demographics, their previous knowledge and experience, their motivations for study, their work and family commitments, their culture and nationality,  their access to technology, their competence with technology – there are so many dimensions.  In most cases, you can only speculate on some of these matters, but they all have an influence on the outcomes for the students.  When you are looking for OERs, you may need to contextualise them for you and your students.  Depending on the variation of context, a consider re-write may be necessary to make the OER accessible to your own students.

There are also institutional factors to consider including your institution’s attitude towards OERs, copyright policy, publishing platforms (mobile devices, hardcopy print, LMS and so on).

My concern is that variations in learning context may significantly limit re-use of OERs.  I have previously commented that to maintain a healthy learning environment, it is important to have a good balance of re-use and adaptation of OERs:

Too much re-use will result in assimilation of ideas which can stifle innovation and stalls evolution. Too much creation anew or even adaption to an extent will limit the benefits of OERs in terms of sharing the costs of development of such resources, as you are constantly re-inventing the wheel.

It is the latter that I am concerned will be he downfall of OERs.

Further questions put forward by our instructor for this week are “Should some OERs be ‘official’ and others ‘unofficial’? Why? Should this be a question to ask?”

This goes to the integrity of OERs, but perhaps the question should be “how do we educate educators to write professionally in an information age?” My class-peer Leah has written an excellent blog post commenting on attitudes towards the citation of wikipedia in scholarly articles.  The academy generally frowns on the use of Wikipedia.  Yet, Leah quite rightly makes the point that many Wikipedia articles are critiqued by many more people than  any “official” publications.  Even Google has a similar opinion.  Like any source of information, it needs to be evaluated in terms of accuracy, authenticity and integrity – all important information literacy skills of the 21st Century and something that we should all do when reading/viewing/listening online.  It is a self-publishing world.  Consider the authorship of the article, the history, and the citations contained therein on which the article’s content is derived – all prominently available in wikipedia.  Then make a reasoned judgement on the credibility of the information and if it checks out, why not use it.