Blog Archives

Context Conditions our Approach to Open, but “what if”…

By Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)

This the fourth of our OEPS forums was focussed on change.  The focus was based on the feedback we had received from previous events, that the OEPS community wanted an opportunity to talk about and reflect on the changes they felt were needed at all levels and scales, from the individual to the national. I led one of the afternoon sessions, it was called “Open education and digital engagement through a widening participation lens”. When I reflected on ‘what change’ and how to put together something meaningful around big terms like Open Education, digital, and widening participation what struck me was the sense in which we often think of how they relate to each other, as enablers, as conditional statements, and as dilemmas.  For example, in the widening participation world, digital technologies and assumptions about ubiquitous access and digital literacies can act as a barrier, at the same time if we are to promote social justice we need to ensure we reach into the digital world. Or we talk about (or at least used to) digital technologies as enabling OER.

Of course my own reflections are based on my context, a context that conditions the way I approach questions. In the workshop I tried to be open about how my context framed the way I address issues and view change. Suggested context (for me) is made up of three things:

  • Our role, what we do and how we (and others) see our role, as facilitator, teacher, builder, or decision maker (all overlapping).
  • Organisational culture, “it’s what we do around here”
  • Personal values, what I believe the value of education is, and how I think about the role of education in creating public value.

Using the following template I asked people to write in a post-it:

In my Context [describe your context] I understand/think of the role of digital technology/open education/widening participation [delete as applicable] as enabling …. [Fill in the blanks]

Crude I know. But here is some of what people said:

  • In my context in eLearning the role of digital technology in open education is enabling but difficult to roll out and increase engagement.
  • In my context as an eLearning manager, University Leftie, I understand the role of widening participation in terms of enabling equality of opportunity
  • In my context as a lecturer I think the role of digital technology as enabling wider student engagement and breaking down barriers through unlimited access
  • In my context s an education adviser in virtual learning, educator, open organisation, Third Sector strategy, policy developer in virtual learning the role of open education as enabling as many health and social care professionals to improve practice on [health issue]

Just a small selection, but they capture the themes, a sense of interlinked nature, with one enabling but creating tensions around another.  Access was prominent, of course open is about access. But we also see concerns and tensions between access to and engagement with, questions about participation and what being open does in the world. In the second exercise we started to tease out those dilemmas and tensions, again crudely I provided a set sentence as an example.

For me the role of digital technology in Open Education is …

For me the role of digital technology in Widening Participation is …

Slightly over the post lunch lull at this point people were getting warmed up, the comforting hubbub of a workshop where people were thinking and talking, and the papers ended up flooded with post it notes.

  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is ambiguous access/participation, potentially one useful component
  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is like another chance to market
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is as a tool not a solution
  • Digital technology in widening participation is another way to engage unreached people, a way to provide different learning styles
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is providing access to education
  • For me the role the digital technology in widening participation requires more digital literacy education
  • Digital technology has the potential to democratise learning but we might just look at cats

Some useful aspirations, and some reservations, what came across in the statements was the sense of digital as part of series of tools, a tool whose position was ambiguous, and not just because of the cats. There is sense of open and online unrealised potential, that it is a challenge which needs to be grasped. In the final exercise we looked at what had to change about their context to enable us to realise our ambitions. I explained that I tend to end up describing a problem and stating some aspirations when I engage in thinking like this. Again using my crude fill in the blanks I asked them to consider

If [open education/digital technology/widening participation] is to enable then …. [Insert here what needs to change in your context] needs to change

This drew some interesting and challenging responses

  • If open education is to enable wider participation then; a whole organisational change is needed to focus on unreached groups rather than focus on “warm contacts”
  • If digital tech is to enable widening participation we need to be willing to value the open and share our work, e.g. be prepared to be filmed talking about our work
  • Top down policies and leadership to allow for OER to be a priority in Educational Institutions
  • Change in context, self-select organisations whose values reflect your own in order to achieve the changes you want!
  • If digital technology is to enable open education then digital literacies need some improvement in the local context (i.e. staff training)
  • If open education is to enable furthering the goal of the common good then the policy ‘open is not the default’ needs to change to ‘open is the default’!

These are the challenges, some top down, buy in from management, open as default, stop using open as way to market “warm contacts”, start getting serious creating a culture of open (or move on as one suggests), engage proactively in digital participation for staff, the learners you do have and more broadly. Some of the things are facing in, a mix of bottom up capacity building and cultural change and top down policy (I will spare reading the post-it suggesting SFC gives more money). Others are about turning to face out, what open does to blur the boundaries between the classroom, the online and the wider community.

It was all a bit rushed, and people wanted more time to talk through the ideas that were emerging, it meant I missed out the last exercise in each of the workshops. So below is the closing exercise.

To close I thought I would ask you to share one of my “What ifs” And invite you to jot down some of your “what ifs” regarding digital technology, open education and widening participation.

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

We know a little bit about innovators and early adopters, they tend to be well educated and have good incomes, they tend to be societies ‘haves’.

If I think about my context I suppose a lot of what we try to do is push things along the segments:

What if I do not accept the benefits of an innovation (like free open online education materials) are not shared equally.

What if I do not accept this distribution is “normal”

I am not sure what the answer is to this, but sometimes you do not have answers to these “what ifs”, they simply are about thinking outside “the facts”, not accepting the context, and looking at how to drive change.

I invite you to note your “what ifs” and share, and to keep thinking about this.

“Today’s a good day to start changing your practice”

by Rosemarie McIlwhan and Anna Page (OEPS project)

This picture shows a Caucasian woman (Josie Fraser) standing on the left of the picture. She is standing at a lectern with a microphone and is speaking. She has should length red hair and is wearing a black patterned dress.

Josie Fraser http://www.josiefraser.com/about/ CC-BY (CC4.0 international)

To say that the open community are just a little bit in awe of Josie Fraser might not be too much of an exaggeration. Where most of us struggle to convince our colleagues or if we’re really ambitious our institutions to engage with open educational practice, Josie has instrumental in the DigLitLeicester programme which has created a sea change in secondary education within Leicester City Council schools. So OEPS were delighted to welcome her as the keynote speaker at the fourth open forum on 9th March in Stirling #OEPSforum4. Her presentation on ‘Connecting Open Practice’ was all the more relevant as it was also Open Education Week.

Rather than repeating her speech here (when you can just see it on Youtube) we thought it more useful to reflect on some of the issues which she raised. As Josie highlighted the rise of open education practices is rather reminiscent of the development of web 2.0 and social media, and more recently online education; which raises the question of what can we learn from these movements? Probably key among the learning is that each of these have involved a seismic culture shift that has started small, with even early adopters not really predicting the ultimate sea change we’ve seen in how these things have changed not just education but society as whole. Consider for a moment the rise of the hashtag from microblogging to ubiquitous across all forms of online engagement and into real life. This has created social change, not only in how we use and engage with technology but also how we find, search, organise and share information. This presents exciting opportunities, particularly when we think about ‘open’.

This picture shows a Caucasian woman (Josie Fraser) standing on the right hand side of the picture. She is standing at a lectern with a Macbook on it and a microphone pointing towards her. She has shoulder length blonde hair and is wearing a black, floral print dress. There are slides showing behind her. The text on the slides is: “Key challenges • I’ve never heard of open licences / OER •	 I don’t see the benefit of sharing resources openly / using OER •	 My resources are not good enough •	 My resources are too good •	 At the moment, I just do what I like and that’s working fine for me •	 Making, finding & accrediting = extra work”

Josie Fraser keynote at #OEPSForum4 (Author Maggie Nguyen) Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127972386@N04/sets/72157663940502853/with/25357922443/ CC-BY

It gives us the opportunity to develop and promote good educational practice (at all levels of education) in a way that we haven’t easily been able to before. However this rapid pace of change has meant that educational policies haven’t kept up with educational practice (with a few notable exceptions such as Leeds University, Glasgow Caledonian University, and the University of Edinburgh, who now all have OER policies). It is perhaps only with a shift in policy that the multitude of educators who are blissfully unaware of the potential of open education, or as Josie suggested those who have ‘open blindness’, will realise the potential of open to facilitate not only their own learning and develop their educational practice but also that of their students. This mismatch in expectations of what students and educators know and what they need for their daily practice must be addressed. This isn’t just a role for education providers but also for teaching and student unions, governing bodies and institutional leaders, and for local and national governments.

Such bodies might wonder how to achieve this but guidance on what might be achieved can be found in the Open Scotland Declaration and on how it may be achieved can be seen in the activities of sector leaders such as Leeds University, Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Edinburgh and the Open University with OpenLearn / OpenLearnWorks amongst others, and of course the work of DigLitLeicester. Josie highlighted the pedigree of Scottish education being at the forefront of technology support education innovation; and suggested that we pay heed to paragraph 7 of the Open Scotland Declaration which states “The next step forward is to join up these initiatives and develop policy support and guidance to enable the culture shift required to embed open education practice across all sectors of Scottish education.”.

Josie suggested that whilst as individuals we might be anywhere in the paradigm between…

  1. Does it matter if we use an open licence?
  2. Do we have permission to use an open licence?
  3. Does it matter what open licence we use?
  4. Does it matter how we cite openly licensed resources?

…as a country we are still very much at the first stage. To move on, educators need to be given permission and support to use open educational practices, and as open educators we need to engage with the governing bodies and institutional leaders, the teaching and student unions, and local and national governments to discuss open educational practice. This will help to create a society which is more equitable and fair, with improved digital literacy and improved quality of education; which in turn will bring social and economic benefits and as one person commented in response to Josie’s questions ‘Using OER makes you feel good!’.

However there’s quite a road to travel yet, whereas 75% of US educators use and understand open educational resources and creative commons licenses, Josie suggests that the same figure only applies to UK educators in terms of the number of OERs used, with many being unaware that they are even using OERs. This is despite open educational practice being used every day through the use of Wikimedia, TES resources and TED talks being openly licensed, and even Google drawing on Wikimedia for its searches.

Josie posed some interesting questions to the forum, which she simultaneously also put into the open via Twitter. These reflected many of the common responses about OER, ranging from ‘I’ve never heard of those’, to ‘My resources aren’t good enough / are too good to share’, to ‘That just sounds like extra work for me’.  There was a sense in the forum and on Twitter that these are fears that we can easily allay, provided a change in culture is created. Albeit there is a chicken and egg situation of can the culture change be created first, or does it come about by virtue of individual change. If we can persuade people and institutions that open education is nothing to fear and indeed it’s something that many are already doing without even realising it; that it is a means of enhancing quality and reputation; and that the investment in open education will benefit students, educators, institutions and the wider community well beyond our original investment then we can begin to win the battle for open. However Josie highlighted that change starts with us, as she said ‘today’s a good day to start changing your practice’– what are you waiting for?