As part of Open Education Week I’m delighted that Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, and I have an article published in WonkHE on Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers. The article introduces the recent ALT policy guide, highlights some of the benefits of OER, and articulates why we need policy makers to embrace open education.
In case you missed it, this blog post outlining my OER18 keynote appeared on the conference website last week.
Being invited to keynote is always a privilege, but I was particularly honoured to be asked to present at this year’s OER18 Conference in Bristol, not least because I’ll be following in the footsteps of the three inspirational women who presented last year’s keynotes; Diana Arce, Maha Bali and Lucy Crompton-Reid. You see, OER is my conference, I’ve attended every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and in 2016 I had the pleasure of chairing the conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton.
To my mind, the success of the OER Conference has always been founded on its willingness to examine and renegotiate what “OER” means, and this is one of the themes I’ll be exploring in my keynote. And by that, I don’t mean defining the specific attributes of what constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I mean critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point. And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers develop over time.
Gabi Whitthaus has already written a thoughtful personal reflection on her journey through the OER conferences and, like Gabi, the changing themes and fluctuating interpretations of “OER” have influenced and reflected my own development and perspective as an open education practitioner over the last decade.
In my current role I have the privilege to work with a great team of people at the OER Service at the University of Edinburgh, an institution with a strong commitment to openness and a vision for OER. This commitment is squarely aligned to the University’s mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. During my keynote I’ll be exploring some of the ways that the university encourages learners to engage with and co-create open education through a wide range of initiatives including internships, playful learning activities, Wikipedia in the classroom assignments, and outreach and engagement courses.
I strongly believe that engaging learners and equipping them with the digital skills necessary to participate in open education is key to ensuring that OER and open education is collaborative, diverse, accessible and participatory. Because ultimately that is what openness is about. Openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion and ultimately it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.
When the conference first launched eight years ago, I approached open education and OER from a rather different perspective. In 2010 the JISC / HEA UKOER Programme was well underway and the first OER keynote was presented by JISC’s Executive Secretary Malcolm Read. At the time, I was working for the JISC Innovation Support Centre CETIS, where I led the team that provided strategic and technical support to the UKOER Programme. My focus then was on how we could harness lightweight web technologies and new Web 2.0 platforms to create a sustainable OER infrastructure without relying too heavily on the monolithic systems and formal education technology standards mandated by previous programmes.
Two years later in 2012 I sat in the audience with my colleague Joe Wilson, then Head of New Ventures at SQA, and listened to Sir John Daniel, talking about the UNESCO / COL initiative Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally, one of the outputs of which was the influential Paris OER Declaration. In a rather roundabout way, that keynote and the subsequent Declaration inspired us to launch the Open Scotland initiative and, together with colleagues from across the open education community, to draft the Scottish Open Education Declaration. And it was through this initiative that I started to re-frame my perspective on OER and open education in terms of personal ethics and the wider policy landscape.
2012 was also the year that the UKOER Programme came to an end and the education technology sector in the UK faced an unprecedented and prolonged period of change and restructuring. Many predicted the demise of the OER Conference at that time, particularly when open education discourse was increasingly becoming dominated by commercial MOOC providers and their promise to disrupt! education. However, far from being swept side by the avalanche, the OER conference continued to thrive and to push the boundaries of open education to incorporate open pedagogy, policy, research and practice, and when ALT stepped up to support the event in 2015, its future was assured.
While it is crucial that we continue to critically negotiate and reassess openness, it is also important that we don’t lose sight of some of the fundamentals of open education. And I would argue that one of those fundamentals is that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public. As open education discourse shifts to focus on open policy, open practice, open textbooks, one might be forgiven for thinking that open educational resources are done and dusted, but that is very far from the case and this is another theme that I want to expand on in my keynote.
In addition to expanding its focus, the OER Conference has also made real and tangible efforts to expand its community, and to ensure that the event is diverse, inclusive, accessible and welcoming. The conference has become increasingly international and has gone to significant lengths to ensure that it really is open and accessible to as diverse a community as possible. ALT is to be applauded for its commitment to providing a wide range of channels and opportunities to enable colleagues to participate in the conference virtually and remotely, and the event has not shied away from asking difficult questions about who is included and excluded from open spaces and conceptualisations of openness.
One perspective that has sometimes been missing from open education discourse is the voice of the learner. That is not to say that the OER Conference has not made an effort to ensure that the student voice is included and represented. Two officers of the National Union of Students have presented keynotes; Toni Pearce at OER13 (standing in for Rachel Wenstone) and Wendy Carr at OER14. However I’m particularly encouraged to see that this year’s conference is squarely addressing learner inclusion by focussing on how open education and open practice can support learners, foster learner diversity and inclusion, and help students develop important digital literacy skills.
At the University of Edinburgh, students have always played a key role in shaping the institution’s vision of openness. Together with senior colleagues within Information Services, it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university, and in 2014 EUSA’s Vice President for Education, Dash Sekhar, attended the conference in Cardiff along with colleagues Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol to talk about this student-led OER policy. I’m delighted that EUSA’s current Vice President for Education, Bobi Archer, will be attending the conference this year, and several of my Information Services colleagues will be coming along to present papers highlighting innovative and creative examples of student engagement across the university. Edinburgh’s vision of openness encourages both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant, contribution to the cultural and digital commons.
Over the years, my own journey as an open education practitioner has followed a similar trajectory to the OER Conferences; my focus has shifted from national technology strategy, to institutional policy and practice, and personal ethics and politics. One thing that has not changed however is that I still believe passionately that open education and OER are necessary to provide diverse and inclusive education and to ensure that education really is Open to All.
One of the great things about openness is that when you release something under open licence, you never quite know who’s going to pick it up and what’s going to happen to it. I know this is one of the things that can make some colleagues apprehensive about using open licences but to my mind this serendipitous aspect of openness is one of it’s unique benefits.
One lovely example of this is that following the Morocco Open Education Day hosted by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech as part of the OpenMed project, a forum of Moroccan scholars came together to draft the OER Morocco Declaration, which is based partially on the Scottish Open Education Declaration which I had a hand in writing in 2014.
Colleagues in Morocco have made significant progress since then, so I was delighted to be invited by Dr Khalid Berrada to attend the 2nd Morocco Open Education Day, which is taking place in Marrakech today, to give a talk about the Scottish Declaration. Unfortunately due to work and family commitments I’m not able to attend in person, but thanks to the University of Edinburgh’s fabulous Media Hopper Create service I was able to record this video contribution to the event.
Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of working with ALT to develop a policy briefing on Open Education and OER. Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers was co-authored by Maren Deepwell, Martin Weller, Joe Wilson and I and it can be downloaded from the ALT Open Access Repository here https://repository.alt.ac.uk/2425/
ALT has produced this call to action to highlight to education policy makers and professionals how Open Education and OER can expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, widen participation, and create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners, preparing them to become fully engaged digital citizens.
Open Education can also promote knowledge transfer while enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.
One of ALT’s three strategic aims is to increase the impact of Learning Technology for the wider community and we are issuing this call to action for policy makers to mandate that publicly funded educational resources are released under open licence to ensure that they reside in the public domain and are freely and openly available to all.
This will be of wide benefit, but in particular will enable education providers and learning technology professionals to:
- Keep up to date with the rapid pace of technological innovation
- Develop critical, informed approaches to the implementation of Learning Technology and the impact on learners
- Scale up knowledge sharing and its benefits across sectors.
Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Slovenia to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland at the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana. The theme of the Congress was “OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: From Commitment to Action” and there was a strong focus on how OER can help to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.
“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”
The main output of the Congress was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan and accompanying Ministerial Statement. The Action Plan outlines 41 recommended actions in 5 key areas to mainstream OER and to help Member States to build knowledge societies and provide quality and lifelong education, and I’ll be writing a short blog psot on the Action Plan later.
It would be impossible to summarise such a diverse event in a single blog post so I just want to pick out some of my own personal impressions.
The first thing that struck me was that the event really lived up to its ambitions to be truly global with over 500 delegates from 111 countries present. I attended lots of “international” and “global” events when I worked in learning technology standards development but they were always heavily dominated by delegates from the US and the global north. I think the OER World Congress is the first event I’ve been to that actually felt genuinely global.
That made it all the more disappointing that there were so few delegates present from the UK. The only other UK participants were Joe Wilson (Open Scotland) and Leo Havemann (Open Knowledge), and there was no official representation from either the UK or Scottish Governments. Given that the UK was once at the forefront of innovative OER initiatives with the #UKOER Programme, that’s a pretty depressing state of affairs.
I heard a lot of inspiring and thought provoking talks over the course of the three days, but one that gave me pause for thought, though perhaps not for the right reasons, was Sir John Daniel summing up of a panel discussion on actions and impacts. John suggested that we have a long way to go before OER reaches the tipping point of general use and that there is a “lamentable lack of data on OER use”. There’s certainly some truth in this, but I don’t think there has been as little progress as he seemed to be suggesting. John also argued that MOOCs have benefits over OER because they are complete courses, before going on to mention how much he enjoyed FutureLearn courses. This seems to me to be highly debatable given that many (though admittedly not all) MOOCs are neither open nor reusable in any real sense of the word, particularly now that many platforms are time limiting access to course resources.
I was inspired however by CEO of Creative Commons Ryan Merkley’s keynote. Ryan presented us with a clear and unambiguous message as to why OER is so important.
“We’re living in a less and less free world constantly trying to defend against restrictive copyright regimes that restrict access to creativity to those who need it. We should seek to share knowledge and lift people up, to create a more equitable world. The commons is public good, a platform for all to share and so is education but we’ve lost sight of that. Today’s education models place individual investment over public good; we pay less but we get less for what we pay and in the end we don’t own anything. The public has to pay for the same resources over and over again. Education budgets are tight, so why do we keep spending our money on things we don’t own and can’t reuse? Publicly funded educational resources should be publicly accessible. We should all own what we pay for. Free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and reuse that’s important. We need to put the power of open at the centre of every opportunity. We need to transform education globally, and disrupt education models based on artificial scarcity. Left to their own devices commercial interests will build their version of the future out of the past. Our focus has to be on improving student learning not protecting old structures.”
Another inspirational moment of the Congress that really made me stop and think came at the end of the Open Data satellite meeting when Leo Havemann reminded us that
“Education should be life long and life wide and should not just have an employability focus.”
The Congress also provided a rare opportunity for members of the Open Education Working Group Advisory Board to meet face to face and I’ve written another blog post about that meeting over at the Open Ed blog.
And it was also great to meet members of the Open Med project and to pick up a copy of the Declaration du Maroc sur les Ressources Educatives Libres; the OER Morocco Declaration which is based on the Scottish Open Education Declaration.
And you can see a short interview with me talking about the Declaration and open education initiatives in Scotland and at the University of Edinburgh in this interview with Jöran Muuß-Merholz.
— OERinfo (@OERinfo) September 20, 2017
One of the things I’ll be looking into as part of my new role is key performance indicators for open educational resources. At the University of Edinburgh we have a Vision and Policy for OER that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enrich the University and the sector, showcase the highest quality learning and teaching, and make a significant collection of unique learning materials available to Scotland and the world.
Staff and students at the university are already making open educational resources available through a range of channels including Open.Ed, Media Hopper, TES, SketchFab, Youtube, Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia, and there are a number of initiatives ongoing that promote and support the creation of OER including 23Things, Board Game Jam, various MOOC projects, our Wikimedian in Residence programme and others.
So how do we develop meaningful key performance indicators to measure and assess the success of these initiatives?
Quantitative indicators are relatively simple to measure in terms of OER produced. It’s not difficult to gather web stats for page views and downloads from the various platforms used to host and disseminate our OERs. For example our open educational resources on TES have been viewed over 2,000 times, and downloaded 934 times, a Wikipedia article on Mary Susan MacIntosh, created during a UoE editathon for International Women’s Day has had 9,030 page views, and UoE MOOCs have reached two and a quarter million learners.
Measuring OER reuse, even within the institution, is much less straightforward. To get an of idea of where and how OERs are being reused you need to track the resources. This isn’t necessarily difficult to do, Cetis did some research on technical approaches for OER tracking during the UKOER Programme, but it does raise some interesting ethical issues, We also discovered during our UKOER research that once authors create OER and release them into the wild, they tend not to be motivated to collect data on their reuse, even when actively encouraged.
There is also the issue of what actually constitutes re-use. Often reuse isn’t as straightforward as taking an OER, adapting is and incorporating it into your course materials. Reuse is often more subtle than that. For example, if you are inspired by an idea, a concept or an activity you ome across in an OER, but you don’t actually download and use the resource itself, does that constitute reuse? And if it does, how do we create KPIs to measure such reuse? Can it even be measured in a meaningful way?
And then there’s the issue of qualitative indicators and measuring impact. How do we assess whether our OERs really are enhancing the quality of the student experience and enriching the University and the sector? One way to gather qualitative information is to go out and talk to people and we already have some great testimonies from UoE students who have engaged with UoE OER internships and Wikimedia in the Classroom projects. Another way to measure impact is to look beyond the institution, so for example 23 Things lornwas awarded the LILAC Credo Digital Literacy Award 2017 and has also been adapted and adopted by the Scottish Social Services Council, and the aforementioned article on Mary Susan McIntosh featured on the front page of English Wikipedia.
I know many other institutions and organisations have grappled with the issue of how to measure the impact of open education and OER. In the US, where OER often equates to open textbooks, the focus tends to be on cost savings for students, however this is not a particularly useful measure in UK HE where course are less reliant on astronomically priced texbooks. So what indicators can we use to measure OER performance? I’d be really interested to hear how other people have approached this challenge, so if you have any comments or suggestions please do let me know. Thanks!
“So what do you do?” can be a bit of a difficult question to answer when you work in the domain of learning technology. And depending on which area of learning technology you work in it can be a harder question to answer for some than others. My default answer tends to be “I work at a University” followed by “I work in education technology”, often with the added explanation “It’s about the use of new technology in education.” “Open education” tends to get you blank looks outwith academia (now there’s a topic for discussion), and thank god I don’t work in “education technology interoperability standards” these days.
My family have defaulted to telling people that I’m a spy on the basis that they don’t actually know what I do, other than travel a lot and disappear for days at a time. It’s hard to argue with them tbh.
Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain what I don’t do; I don’t teach, I don’t do formal academic research, I’m not a programmer, I don’t develop or implement systems, I don’t provide help desk services, I don’t run the VLE. I do manage projects and provide advice to colleagues. I provide input to policies. I support networks and disseminate practice. I write a lot, talk a lot and present a lot. I facilitate events and chair conferences. I sit on boards, steering groups and executive committees. Maybe it is easier to tell people I’m a spy.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that after months of procrastination, I’m finally making a start on my CMALT application. I had hoped to do this towards the end of last year but two new projects took precedence, so CMALT went on the back burner.
I had mixed feelings about CMALT for a number of years, primarily because for a long time I didn’t really seem to fit any recognisable definition of what a learning technologist is. I tried to explain this anxiety in a blog post I wrote in 2014 Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted. That post also refers to a brilliant piece written by Amber Thomas Perhaps I’m not one, which I identified with strongly at the time, and still do. The main point I was trying to make in CPD Rebooted was that formal certification can be difficult for people whose roles don’t neatly fit into the kind of boxes that make up accreditation frameworks. This is doubly true for those on short term contracts, who have to jump from project to project and rarely have much time for formal CPD. I ended that blog post with a question I asked on twitter:
Things have changed a lot for me since 2014, both professionally and personally. Our understanding of what it means to be a learning technologist has matured and become more inclusive, and although contracts in higher education have become increasingly precarious, I’m very lucky that my own employment situation is more secure than it was three years ago. In fact I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an institution that not only allows dedicated time for CPD but that also actively promotes and supports CMALT membership. Information Services at the University of Edinburgh offer bursaries to enable learning technologists to become Certified Members of ALT and my colleague Susan Grieg supports colleagues to help them prepare their portfolios.
Having spent the day pouring over the CMALT guidelines I can see that ALT have worked hard to create an accreditation framework that is as broad as it is inclusive. However I’m still sitting here sifting through projects, webinars, presentations, papers, twitter conversations and reflective blog posts wondering how the hell I’m going to fit all this into that. How on earth can I demonstrate an “understanding of my target learners” when I don’t actually teach? Of course the answer is that I’m going to have to think creatively. I may not have a teaching role, but hopefully all those webinars and talks and blog posts do help my peers and colleagues to learn and to develop their professional practice. I’m still at the stage where I’m struggling to fit my experience into the CMALT framework, but hopefully if I keep thinking about it and reflecting on what I actually do, it will all start to fall into place. Having access to the CMALT Portfolio Open Register is already proving to be enormously helpful but I’d be very interested to hear how others have approached this.
(Belatedly realising I have no idea how to licence memes….)
Reflections on open education policy in the UK since the Cape Town Declaration
Paper presented at the OER17 Politics of Open conference.
2017 has officially been designated the “Year of Open”.
The Year of Open is a global focus on open processes, systems, and tools, created through collaborative approaches, that enhance our education, businesses, governments, and organizations … Open represents freedom, transparency, equity and participation … During the Year of Open, we want to capture and display these efforts to increase participation and understanding of how open contributes to making things better for everyone.
This initiative is backed by many of the major international players in the field of open education, including Creative Commons, the Open Education Consortium, OER Africa, etc.
And the reason that this is the Year of Open is that we have a number of important anniversaries
It’s the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and it’s also the ¨ 15th anniversary of the release of the first Creative Commons licence.
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are openly licensed. And if you haven’t read the Cape Town Declaration recently, I can highly recommend revisiting it, it’s really quite inspiring and inspiring statement.
And it’s also the 5th Anniversary of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration which, five years after Cape Town, strengthened this call by encouraging governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.
The Paris declaration was an output of the World OER Congress held at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in June 2012 and to mark this anniversary, UNESCO, in collaboration with the Government of Slovenia and the Commonwealth of Learning will host the 2nd World OER Congress in Lubljana in September this year.
This event will bring together government ministers, policy makers and open education practitioners in order to:
- Examine solutions to meet the challenges of mainstreaming OER
- Showcase best practices in OER policies and initiatives
- Provide recommendations for the mainstreaming of OER
In advance of this event, the Commonwealth for Learning are undertaking a series of regional consultations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific and in addition, to these consultations, COL have circulated a questionnaire to government education ministries and stakeholders focused on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education. Both the consultations and survey are ongoing, so I don’t have figures for the number of governments that have participated, but I want to come back to this initiative later.
There’s no denying that there have been significant advances in open education in the ten years since the Cape Town Declaration. And you only have to look at the programme of this conference to get an idea of the diverse range of open education initiatives that are going on worldwide. Even the International Open Science Conference had a special focus on OER this year. During that conference Dirk Van Damme of OECD gave a great talk on how OER can act as a catalyst for innovation. Much of Dirk’s presentation was based on this OECD report, which I can highly recommend. One of the figures Dirk quoted was this one; out of 33 countries that responded to a 2012 survey undertaken by OECD, 76% of them had policies to support OER production and use. 76% is a pretty impressive figure, particularly if it’s representative. Wouldn’t it be amazing if 76% of governments worldwide had OER policies? But if we look at this map you’ll notice that one of the countries highlighted is the UK and the UK does not in fact have any government policies that support the creation and use of open licensed educational content. And neither do the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales. In fact government support for open education has arguably declined since this survey was undertaken. To be fair to OECD, I suspect the UK was originally included in these figures as a result of the UKOER programme, which came to an end in 2012. UKOER did not result in the creation of government policy, that was never it’s aim, though it did result in the creation of institutional OER policies, and again, I want to come back to that later. Funding for UKOER did come through government channels, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as actually having government policy on OER.
To my knowledge, the Westminster Government has not invested any further direct funding in open education since the end of the UKOER Programme and in the intervening years, central support for open education has diminished. Jisc, the organization that coordinated and supported UKOER and once led the field in technology innovation for open education, is no longer active in this space and, as I’m sure many of you will be aware, last year they closed Jorum, the UK’s central OER repository. Selected resources from Jorum have been migrated to the new Jisc Store, which is intended to host both open licensed and paid for content, a move that resulted in some discussion and concerns about open washing when the prototype was launched last year.
As many of you will be aware, Scotland did not participate directly in the UKOER programme, as funding came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and therefore, quite rightly, only English institutions were eligible to bid. It’s my understanding that the Scottish Funding Council were invited to contribute to the pot, but for reasons that remain obscure, chose not to. Some of us, who were involved in supporting the UKOER programme and happened to be based in Scotland, thought that was rather short sighted of SFC so we launched the Open Scotland initiative as a result. I’m not going to say too much about Open Scotland as I suspect many of you will have heard me talk about it before, but just briefly, Open Scotland is a voluntary cross sector initiative that aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education. Open Scotland has been supported by a number of organisations over the years, most recently ALT Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.
One of the main outputs of the Open Scotland initiative is the Scottish Open Education Declaration, which is based on the Paris OER Declaration of 2007, but which broadens the scope of the original to include all aspects of open education. And again, I’m sure some of you will have heard me speak about the Declaration before. Open Scotland has been lobbying the Scottish Government since 2013 to encourage them to endorse the principals of the Declaration and recommend the use of open licenses for educational resources produced with Scottish public funding. I’ve been personally involved in leading this initiative and after four years I can stand here with my hand on my heart and say that despite our best efforts we have had next to no influence on government policy. We have contacted three consecutive Ministers for Education, and although two made vaguely encouraging noises about the Declaration, they had no inclination to support the principals of the Declaration.
I should add at this point that the Scottish Government isn’t completely blind to the concept of open education. In 2014 the then Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell, allocated £1.3 million to the Open University to launch the major Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project. That project, which has had considerable success in engaging the third sector in open education, is coming to an end on July this year and some of the team are here at the conference if you want to find out more about this initiative.
The Scottish Government’s lack of interest in open education can be seen at policy level too. In September last year Scot Gov launched their new digital learning and teaching strategy for Scottish schools. Key themes are closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, embedding technology across the curriculum, and using digital technology to improve the assessment process. While it’s encouraging that the strategy acknowledges the potential of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching, and equip learners with digital skills, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t acknowledge the significant role that open education can play in achieving these objectives. Similarly, the Government’s “refreshed” Digital Strategy makes no mention of open education, though it does talk about open data and digital education.
And remember the Commonwealth for Learning’s Regional OER Consultation and Survey I mentioned earlier? Open Scotland liased closely with COL to facilitate Scottish Government participation in this initiative. Again, we had no response, the government did not send a representative to the consultation and to my knowledge they have not participated in the survey either. ¨ Open Scotland did actually send a representative to the consultation, Joe Wilson attended on our behalf, and in actual fact Joe was the only person who attended from the UK.
To be fair, both the UK and Scottish governments have had other things on their mind recently, but this lack of engagement with international open education initiatives strikes me as being both short sighted and rather depressing.
So why is this? Why is it that open education generates barely a flicker of interest at government level? In Scotland at least, there is a perception that open education is peripheral to government priorities, primarily because there is a lack of statistical evidence base supporting the impact of open education on learners.
This is not a new issue, many open education practitioners and scholars have highlighted the need for more evidenced based research into the impact of open education. In a challenging talk at the recent Open Science Conference Marco Kalz, UNESCO chair of Open Education at the OUNL, acknowledged that reuse and adaptation are notoriously hard to track and measure, as are direct and indirect effects of OER, and he pointed out, there are no studies that show a direct correlation between OER and innovation. Quoting Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox’s research at the University of Edinburgh, Marco agreed that “discussions of OER too often tend to optimism and lack of critique” and he argued that the open education field must move from being advocacy driven to become more research driven.
That’s not to say that there is no high quality research into the impact of open education, I’ve already mentioned the work of the Digital Education team at the University of Edinburgh and of course there’s the OER Research Hub at the Open University who do sterling work. There’s also a lot of good research being undertaken in the US, however much of this focuses on the significant cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks. However these figures don’t easily translate across the Atlantic and it has proved much harder to quantify the benefits of open education in sectors that are less reliant on textbooks. Impressive though the figures are, knowing for example, that Maricopa Community College district saved students $5 million over 5 years isn’t going to cut the ice with education ministers if learners aren’t expected to buy costly textbooks in the first place.
So it’s not so much that there’s no research, its that we need more of it, we need more diverse research and we need research that directly addresses strategic government priorities. One of the most frustrating things about all this is that we actually have an excellent evidence base for research on the long term impact of open education here in the UK. The UKOER programme ended in 2014, but very little in depth research or evaluation has been undertake on its impact and outputs. This is primarily because the end of the programme coincided with JISC’s transition from government quango, to not for profit company and its subsequent shift in priorities. Of course the political and education landscapes have changed radically since the end of the UKOER programme but I still believe there is useful research to be done here. After all, you don’t have to look far to see the continued impact of the programme. Many people predicted the demise of the OER conference when the HEFCE funding came to and end, and yet here we all are participating in the biggest most diverse OER conference ever and despite all the funding cuts, despite all the political doom and gloom we are making progress. We may not have had a significant impact on Government policy yet but there are a wealth of open education and OER initiatives going on all over the UK.
Several Higher Education institutions, including the University of Edinburgh, have formally adopted OER policies, policies I should add which have their roots in the UKOER programme, and there have been notable successes in the public sector with charities such as the Wellcome Trust and public institutions such as the National Library of Scotland and the British Library taking positive steps to make their collections more open and to support openness at scale. Other organisations such Wikimedia UK and ALT have also stepped in to play an important role in supporting open education policy and practice across the UK. And it’s been really encouraging to see ALT placing openness right at the heart of their new strategy.
Ten years ago the Cape Town Declaration identified a number of barriers to realizing the vision of open education
- Educators remain unaware of the growing pool of open educational resources.
- Governments and educational institutions are either unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education.
- Differences among licensing schemes for open resources create confusion and incompatibility.
- The majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts.
Clearly some of these barriers remain to be overcome and on the evidence of our experience in the UK, I would argue that there is still much to be done to convince governments of the benefits of open education. Some governments are really starting to get it though.
We may still be struggling to convince the Scottish Government of the benefits of open education but I was delighted to hear just a few days ago, that as a result of the Open Med project the Moroccan Government plans to endorse and adapted version of the Scottish Open Education Declaration making it the first country in Africa to have an open education policy I believe. It’s perhaps not the kind of impact we envisaged for the Open Scotland initiative but I think it’s a brilliant example of the unexpected, serendipitous aspect of openness and I hope that where Morocco leads, the UK will, eventually, follow.
The OER17 Politics of Open Conference is taking place in London this week, and I can hardly believe it’s been a year since Melissa and I chaired last year’s conference in Edinburgh! As always, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends from all over the world and meeting some long standing online colleagues irl for the first time. I’ve got several sessions lined up up over the course of the two days, so if you want to catch me, this is where I’ll be. Come and say hello!
Perspectives on Open Education in a World of Brexit & Trump
Wed, Apr 5 2017, 11:20am – 12:40pm
Panellists: Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell, James Luke, and Martin Weller
This panel aims to stimulate deeper thought beyond our initial reactions to these political movements. We will provide diverse, multiple perspectives on the relationship between Open Education and the political changes represented by Brexit and the Trump election. Many questions arise, including:
- What challenges do these political movements pose for Open Education? What opportunities?
- Open Education movement has largely embraced values of inclusiveness, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. How might these values be furthered under these new regimes? How might these values be hindered?
- Will our work in the open education movement change?
- In what ways can we shape the future of the Open Education Movement?
The Distance Travelled: Reflections on open education policy in the UK since the Cape Town Declaration
Wed, Apr 5 2017, 1:30pm – 2:50pm
Author: Lorna Campbell
Ten years ago the Cape Town Declaration laid the foundations for what it described as the “emerging open education movement” and called on colleagues to come together to commit to the pursuit and promotion of open education and to overcome the barriers to realizing this vision. Among the barriers the Declaration recognized were “governments and educational institutions that are unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education” and it went on to advocate the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are openly licensed. Five years later, the Paris OER Declaration strengthened this call by encouraging governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.
This paper will provide an overview of the advances and mis-steps in open education policy and practice in the UK in the ten years since the Cape Town Declaration, while comparing and contrasting the UK experience with developments elsewhere in Europe and North America. The paper will include a case study on the Scottish Open Education Declaration and the efforts of the Open Scotland initiative to lobby the Scottish Government to endorse the principles of the declaration and adopt open licenses for publicly funded educational content.
Wed, Apr 5 2017
With Martin Hawksey, John Robertson and Lorna Campbell
End of day session, from 1730-1800. With onsite buddy Teresa MacKinnon and virtual buddies Nadine Aboulmagd and Simon Ensor.
This lightning talk will be a short polemic reflecting on political and personal events that have led me to both question and strengthen my commitment to open education over the last two years. These include the detention and disappearance of Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartebil, and the project that created an open book dedicated to his life and work The Cost of Freedom: A Creative Enquiry. The privilege of co-chairing the OER16 Open Culture Conference. The result of the UK’s European Membership referendum, announced the day after a meeting of European colleagues to discuss how we could work together to join up open education policy and practice across the Europe. The appointment of the first Gaelic language Wikimedian in Residence by Wikimedia UK and the National Library of Scotland. The surge of horror and shout of rage following the results of the US presidential election.
My response to these disparate, seemingly unconnected events was to write, to blog, to try to find words to make sense of events and my reaction to them, and to reassert my belief that we have a moral responsibility to work together to improve education opportunities for all, not just the privileged few.
I can’t promise this talk will be neutral or balanced, but it will be honest and from the heart, and ultimately it will be open.
by Gary Walsh
I am writing this post as a challenge to the narrative developing in Scottish education circles at the moment. I believe that we are in danger of sleepwalking into an abyss of ill-conceived period of reform based on an impoverished understanding of the purposes of education, confusion about the meaning of equity in that context, and a politicisation of the education system the like of which we have not seen in generations.
The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence was developed and indeed heralded as a radical programme for educational transformation. The original CfE document (published in 2004) remains the most purposeful document available to us. I would like to suggest that now would be the perfect time for the underpinning values of CfE and the Four Capacities to be reviewed and updated.
A lot has happened since 2004 and indeed the ‘National Conversation’ that preceded the CfE document. The global economic crisis of 2008 happened. The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum happened. Now Brexit and Trump have happened. All of these represent key challenges that have tested and will continue to test Scottish society. The world is going through a phase of mass disruptive change: politically, socially, ecologically, economically and culturally. We are faced with some of the greatest challenges of our times including global inequality, climate change, social conflict and lack of cohesion, a failing economic system, as well as rises in global terrorism and right-wing political agendas.
This presents many challenges for education and lifelong learning, not least in terms of uncertainties about funding, leadership and administration, but it poses fundamental questions that have a direct impact on the purpose and meaning of education and learning itself: what is worth knowing and doing? What kind of world should we be trying to create? In an age of anger, mistrust and fear, how can education and lifelong learning help to cultivate compassion, trust and collective action? If ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, what kind of village, and how can it be done? What is the vision for society that we are aspiring towards?
The values that are inscribed onto the ornamental mace at the Scottish Parliament that apparently define not only CfE but the principles of society and democracy itself – wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity – are fine words. I am astonished however by the number of people I have spoken with in recent years who do not know where these words came from. In a 2006 paper entitled ‘A Curriculum for Excellence: A Question of Values‘, Donald Gillies points out the truth which is that the values were chosen by the silversmith who designed the mace. Gillies suggests that this puts the whole basis of CfE, and the claims that it is designed around the principle of democracy, in doubt.
The slogans we call the Four Capacities – confident individuals, responsible citizens, effective contributors and successful learners – are certainly not beyond question either. Where did they come from and what do they mean? What vision of society are we expecting children and young people to confidently, responsibly, successfully and effectively contribute towards? Without a coherent vision for the kind of society we are aiming to create, the Four Capacities are meaningless.
Donald Trump arguably possesses all of the Four Capacities. He is certainly a confident individual. He is extremely effective in what he contributes. He has successfully learned how to do so. Is he a responsible citizen? A majority of the American electorate seem to think he is.
Mark Priestley and Walter Humes simply ask this of the Four Capacities: “Would it make much difference if the capacities were given as effective learners, responsible individuals, successful citizens and confident contributors?” (Priestley & Humes, 2010: 351)
It seems vital that we continue to develop and further embed CfE. The first step should be to scrutinise the Four Capacities (if not drop them completely) and re-visit the place of values by opening up a long-term dialogue about the meaning and purposes of education in Scotland.
There are many sources of inspiration that could help us to do just that. Professor Stephen Ball articulates the requirements for educative schooling and the education of democratic citizens as being “concerned with literacies for active, local and global citizenship, including a critical view of the world of work”, a “responsibility to contribute to the development of “high energy democracy” (Unger, 1994) in ways which draw upon ‘narratives of human possibility’” and a rethinking of “the relationship between education and opportunity, equity, and wellbeing”. (Ball, 2013: 26)
I would add social justice to that final list. We haven’t even begun to tap into the possibility of developing a shared understanding of these kinds of ideas. We could open up an empowering dialogue around the question of purpose, principles and values in Scottish education, and it would be especially fascinating to learn what children and young people think. Having developed a shared sense of purpose, we should then put our trust in the professional abilities of teachers, researchers, youth workers and lecturers to help us realise our ambitions, instead of allowing a situation to develop where they are completely entrapped by top-down bureaucracies. I am advocating that everybody – educators, children, young people and communities – can bring their collective knowledge, experience and expertise to the table and that together we can ignite education from the ground up.
Instead of clarifying our thinking around CfE and the purposes of education, we are currently doing the opposite. We are getting further and further away from the original intentions of CfE: so much so that its principles can scarcely be located in the National Improvement Framework. We are no longer engaged in a process of radical transformation – if indeed we ever were. Instead we are set to become entangled with a shambolic programme of standardised assessments and yet more benchmarks that will attempt to specify everything but will ultimately mean very little.
A recent Statement for Practitioners from Education Scotland references the CfE principles and values, unchanged from the original 2004 document, in the appendix! Make no mistake about it: the bigger picture is not at the forefront of policy-makers’ minds. We have moved on from discovering and questioning the principles of education. We are now dealing in a crude game of gaps, numbers, graphs, comparisons, data and outcomes, all of which are politically driven and motivated by a desire for marginal gains designed to appease voters, in which the principles and purposes of Scottish education could be lost for a generation.
Which leads me on to the issue of equity. The narrow focus we currently have on the ‘Attainment Gap’ rather crassly presents poverty as a technical challenge to be counter-acted by increasing the effectiveness of teaching and assessment strategies. There is no doubt that effective teaching is part of the solution, but it must be understood in the overall context which is that teachers and pupils are working in the some of the most socially unjust circumstances in Western Europe.
Educational equity does not simply mean that everybody should get five Highers. If we are serious about equity being one of the core purposes of education we need to think way beyond academic attainment. Equity is about fairness, justice and inclusion. It is about ensuring that education serves to enhance the wellbeing of all of us and not just a few of us. It is about understanding and challenging the broader structures of power that serve to perpetuate various categories of inequality.
How then do we achieve equity in education? Here are some thoughts as a starter-for-ten:
- All educators should be empowered and encouraged to actively advocate and campaign for the rights of children and young people, illuminating and challenging the unjust circumstances in which so many children and young people are living. This would involve supporting teachers, for instance, in refining their understanding of children’s rights and social justice issues, and being equipped with an in-depth understanding of the material and psychological impact of poverty on children and families. I would argue that the contents of courses such as Edinburgh University’s BA in Childhood Practice and University of Glasgow’s MSc in Youth Studies should be standard issue for all educators.
- We need to develop a broader narrative that goes beyond issues of effectiveness in education. The pressures and disadvantages of ‘performativity’ in education are well documented. This means constantly revisiting the values, principles, purposes and meaning of education – and trusting educators to act on the basis of those principles, not just in response to targets, benchmarks and/or Key Performance Indicators.
- Education policy should be understood as part of a broader project of social change. This means aligning education policy in concert with other policies that are designed to create equity across the system more generally and, vitally, eradicating poverty. The only way to do this is by implementing progressive policies that are designed to redistribute wealth more equally across society. In keeping with that overall mission, education policy should be developed on the basis of a social, humanistic model rather than an industrial/accountability model (these points are further argued here as part of the Common Weal Policy Lab on education and inequality).
- During a period of politicisation of education, educators should be free to ‘get political’ in their responses. We cannot escape the fact that public state education will always be political. There are many educators in Scotland who would quietly subscribe to the theories of Critical Pedagogy and Critical Democratic Education – but I would argue that the associated practices are notably absent in Scottish education. We have a well-meaning but ultimately subservient group of professionals who are desperately trying to make things better by working within the confines of the status quo. We need more people who are willing to speak out against injustices, mis-guided political tinkering and anything else that is clearly not in the best interests of the children, young people and communities that education is supposed to serve.
- We need a much more diverse group of professionals working in education (institutions and policy making) and a more diverse educational offer. Teachers and education policy makers tend to be people for whom education has ‘worked’. They have made such a success of it that they return to it as a profession. There is a lot to celebrate here of course, but does it not make the task of meeting the needs of young people for whom the current system does not ‘work’ much more difficult? Who is there in the system that can really understand the situation of these young people and can act convincingly on their behalf?
- The status and role of early years practice, youth work, vocational learning, adult education as well as ‘atypical’ models of education such as Folk Schools, Place-Based Learning and Kindergarten should be examined and strengthened where necessary. Scotland has typically developed its education policy by consensus building (noting the ‘con’ in consensus). The resulting one-size-fits-all approach may have worked for us in the past but now it seems outdated and, like many education systems around the world, in need of a serious rethink.
I said at the beginning of this post that I wanted to challenge the current narrative in Scottish education. I have argued that we should get back to the basics of values, principles and purposes and I have argued that we need to get serious about the issue of equity.
Comments are very welcome below as are online responses to this post using the hashtag #ignitingeducation – let’s spark a more open and meaningful dialogue.
Thank you for reading.
About the author
Gary is the creator of the Curriculum for Equity website. He is a freelance consultant and facilitator with particular interests in values, character development, social/emotional skills and social justice. He is a founding editor of #ScotEdChat (a weekly chat on Twitter about Scottish education) and the co-author of Speaking of Values. You can use the contact page to contact Gary directly.