Reflections on OE Global and OER17 – part 2

by Anna Page (OEPS project)

Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17 'The Politics of Open'

Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17 ‘The Politics of Open’

After spending time at OE Global in Cape Town, 4 weeks later I was attended the first day of OER17 in London, chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski, where I was fortunate to hear two great keynote speakers challenge our perceptions about open education.  Maha Bali encouraged us to think about how OER might be viewed in situations where intellectual property of material is less relevant to teachers because of their country curriculum situation or where academic freedoms, taken for granted in many Western democracies, are not available to certain groups of society, particularly women. Or where access to the internet was limited or restricted, depending on ability to pay (access to the internet is never free).  She pointed out the inequalities of treatment of internet users with some being more vulnerable to harassment, trolling or surveillance than others. In addition the interpretation of accessibility of materials came under scrutiny.  Maha Bali asked the question about whether openly licenced works follow the letter but not the spirit of openness.  She asked us to think about which of two options was more openly accessible:  the use of complex academic language in an openly licenced article or material written in accessible language but carrying a more restrictive Creative Commons licence, such as no derivatives.  She challenged us to think about the model of western funding for third world projects which did not explore the needs of the beneficiaries and impose solutions which subsequently don’t work or influence those seeking funding to conform to western ideas of what should work, without due regard for the cultural and contextual needs of their communities.

Maha Bali

Maha Bali

Maha opened up her keynote to get live open educational practice stories from the audience, which meant the development of her keynote was not ‘complete’ until she was delivering it as she responded to each story and led into the next prepared idea seamlessly, therefore breaking the accepted view of a lecture being about delivering ideas in one direction of transmission rather than exchange, a demonstration of ‘open educational practice’ in action.  She also explored the birth of ideas and intentions (comparing them to seeds) and how they might be nurtured first in private (hidden deep inside) then emerge into the public when they were ready to be shared (make explicit) where nurturing would need to continue by all involved to reap the rewards.

Later, in the second keynote, Diana Arce got us to think about the use of art as a tool for involving people in political activism.  She took us through a thought-provoking and lively journey of how art in public spaces is used and interpreted taking into account who commissions it and the location in which it is placed.  She showed how audience involvement in its creation was essential to empower people to understand, think and grow, offering them an alternative narrative via open spaces to share art and dialogue.  The essential message was “don’t tell people what to think”, use art to help their ideas and contributions emerge.  Open projects could use artists as strategists for development of open resources, going to where people are in order to engage them in the act of creation and knowledge building.

Diana Arce

Diana Arce

After the first keynote at OER17, I attended a panel discussion called Perspectives on Open Education in a World of Brexit & Trump (#trexit), with panellists Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell (from Open Scotland), James Luke and Martin Weller.  In addition to the four panellists, there were video recordings from 4 others who contributed real life examples of how these votes which have changed the global political landscape are affecting their academic practice, which the panel then discussed and opened to the floor for comments and questions.  It was sobering to see how the laptop ban on flights from certain countries to the US and UK is seriously affecting the progress of a PhD student and had also negatively affected keynote presenter Maha who had travelled from Egypt without her laptop or presentation on a memory stick (she had put it into cloud storage online before travelling).  The theme of the conference was very evident in this discussion, and it was clear that ‘Open is always political’.

The parallel sessions in the afternoon offered plenty of choice and inevitable clashes – my OEPS presentation was on at the same time as the OEPS presentation given by Ronald Macintyre.  Mine was the third in a group of 3, the first of which was about Academic confidence building with student use of Wikipedia, as they learn to collate Wikipedia subject pages (enhancing their digital literacy) and the second was an introduction to the MOIN project which is just starting to explore the challenges of cross-sectoral use of OER in Germany, where significant barriers still exist.  These include legal barriers (licencing) and the lack of knowledge about where to find OER, training and digital literacy, all issues we grapple with on this project.  It seemed fitting to follow this with the OEPS presentation about the evolution and further development of the OpenLearn Create platform for hosting open courses and the open educational practices modelled by the OEPS approach to course building in partnership.  Several questions and a lively discussion followed the three presentations, including questions to me about whether OpenLearn Create would get inundated by courses which might not follow good practice or break the terms of use of the site.  My response was that since the redesign in January we have had one spam course so far which has been taken down and that the Terms of use need to be more explicit in site usage and on data protection, so there is further work to do.  However so far the site has not been flooded with lots of new courses built by third parties on their own, most people seem to be quite tentative in getting started without contacting us first.

Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER17

Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER17

I also enjoyed the subsequent parallel session which included the OEPS presentation Exploring International Open Educational Practices presented by Beck Pitt, Bea De Los Arcos, and Michelle Reed in which they explored various definitions of OEP, some of the case studies and the emerging framework of open practice based on the research to date.  This was followed by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz’s Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness which explored how purist definitions of open can be a limitation to open practice, with pragmatism helping to address the challenges.  Then Michelle Harrison and Irwin Devries presented Advocating for Open: the role of learning support professionals in changing practice, which reminded us that external online support networks are often the only source of support the lone open educational practitioner might have if their institution doesn’t have a policy or support mechanism for OER, and this has not changed much in the past two years, according to their research.

From my perspective, the key messages which crossed both conferences showed that the awareness of OER, what it is, how it can be used, reused, and created is still in its infancy in many educational organisations, let alone in the third sector and there is much to do to make it and the practices which enable it to become more mainstream.  A rallying cry at OE Global was for OER advocates to be more vigorous in actively marketing OER and OEP.  This would help to balance the professional HE marketing of their online lectures/open textbooks/MOOCs which often drowns out really good community produced OER which may have better pedagogical value than a series of online video lectures not viewed in their original context.  The thorny question of how to measure the impact of OER was also voiced at both conferences, though to a certain extent good practice surrounding this question is explored in Becoming an open educator.

In addition, a strong message was that OER will not be adopted by learners and teachers if it is imposed, only if it is created collaboratively, The OEPS experience of collaborative open course production in partnership is one example of how this can work to the benefit of learners.  Widening participation continues to be a strong theme of the OEPS project and will be discussed at the forthcoming Porous University seminar in May 2017.  In both the OE Global and OER17 presentations I shared the questions we consider when we reflect on partnerships using open education: “if partners are looking to OER development as a way to fill structural holes in individual learning journeys, what are the implications for formal learning providers with a focus on widening participation?  Does this mean that formal providers would have less of a role in widening participation if external organisations fill these holes or, more constructively, can formal providers see this as an opportunity to work more closely with external organisations to enhance their formal curriculum? By using OER created as a bridge to formal learning, learners can be provided with qualifications which directly relate to their career and lifelong learning opportunities?” (OEPS presentation extended narrative for OE Global 2017).

In a world of #trexit and austerity budgets which are reducing public services including education, it is all the more vital for HE, FE and third sector organisations to work in collaboration to ensure that a good education is open to as many people as possible.

Image credits: Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17, Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER by Anna Page and licensed CC BY 2.0.  Maha Bali and Diana Arce images by Josie Fraser for OER17.

Posted on April 12, 2017, in article, Conferences, Dissemination and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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