The opportunity to meet so many practitioners and promoters of the Open Educational Resources approach at OER11 last week also gave me a chance to express a few concerns I have about OER traction in the academic community. Following this up on Twitter afterwards illustrated to me how a loose message can get a little warped as it passes from hand to hand (and how I need to be even more clear because of this).
I went (with Chris) to OER11 to pick up on some of the current momentum and meet with other projects in OER to ensure we can get the best from our approach in OeRBITAL over its remaining months. I think we can present some bioscience realistic practice in addition to the spectra of projects to highlight some issues to be addressed for any forthcoming OER phase 3 projects.
In essence, what we have set up in the OeRBITAL wiki is a pool of experienced bioscience practitioners to tackle the recommended online sources for OER and tell the stories about how they might be used – to help these become part of the standard practice for their colleagues, especially in the learned societies and other networks. Progress is steady but pace is intermittent. We will have realistic experience of tackling OERs for the bioscience disciplines to report upon but it is likely that our preliminary findings in the draft final report will be those that feed into the OER3 call, due to time constraints. We will therefore have to ripen these as soon as possible.
This leads me to the ripple of conversation on twitter after my presentation at OER where I was illustrating how we get embedded in our current practice without even realising it. I played an icebreaker card using a simple box representing the ideal repository (you know, the one that all academics visit in preference to Google, the one that makes them ‘mega-stars’ of education by charting their contributions) and projectile as a metaphor: the delegates were tasked as pairs to describe a resource on paper (a4 or post-it) and get it into the box with the potential aid of paper-clips and rubber bands. Various models and tactics were deployed from paper airplanes, scrunched-ball, replicates as “e-buckshot” and high power folded ‘bullets’, all with various degrees of success but very few into the repository on the first pass. I then revealed a second opportunity was now available using all the resources in the room, obviously including the first attempts in the repository and its near misses, although I did not push the hint too far.
revised attempts included
- Collaborate with the people in a better position or with a track record who had a successful approach i.e. better aim/technique/position to deliver version 2
- Re-launch version 1 from its previous near-miss result position
- Repeat first attempt but modified with the benefit of feedback from own and other attempts.
No-one simply stuck their resource on a post–it onto one already in the repository – one already attracting attention for the topic. I didn’t say this was not allowed but I did ask the participants to think about what this game represented, not just paper and boxes.
The idea was to bring to mind our assumptions as I believe it mirrored some of the current practice with OERs. No-one appears to be appending solutions to similar resources which are already popular with the community and this is missing an opportunity to build a better solution and network of users. Is this because the common/convenient understanding of the CC licence is interpreted as more ‘free to use’ not free to build upon?
I then explained that in our OeRBITAL project we have now sought to blend Learning Technologists (LTs) with the pool of Discipline Consultants (DCs) to help identify the opportunities to build upon the resources already discovered (by the DCs). We observed in our pilot project that the LTs appeared to be working in different but overlapping orbits and communication between them (LTs and Discipline experts) was likely to be limited to only where they crossed. I am not saying LTs work in isolation to each other in general, I am suggesting that the discipline-based projects they are working on may benefit from being informed by other experts in the discipline in other institutions with similar needs, or other LTs working on very similar projects, on an on-going basis. It is usually only when each community meets up to share the outputs of its projects e.g. ALT-C, or for example, the Physiological Society, that a fruitful OER collision may be developed (as opposed to be observed) e.g. the physiology tutor that attends ALT-C, the Learning Technologist who attends with an academic to the society meeting to report on a joint project, but would be unlikely to attend a whole event as it is not their typical professional loop. Of course both can seek information online via various applications but only when we have significant cross over, like that afforded by microblogs and blogs in general, will resources (hopefully OERS) under construction get an early opportunity to work towards a common goal. If there are LTs working on projects in the biosciences are they blogging to pick up other needs and therefore other opportunities for their outputs? For example, “who else is interested in the virtual microscope we are working on” etc. Are tutors in the disciplines using the information in the repositories to find collaboration opportunities, or are they merely interested in outputs alone? We do not get a flood of requests into the Subject Centre from Learning Technologists asking if anyone else is interested in the discipline material they are currently working on.
If we find a significant contribution to the discipline of Biosciences then we would highlight it to enable other discipline practitioners take advantage of it. We promote them when we find them to our contacts through our events and publications but this is usually initiated through the Academic related to their project.
So, in addition to compiling a collection identified by the discipline experts we are deliberately making a cross-over happen like a collision under controlled conditions, to observe in which direction the ‘subatomic components’ might start to fly.