Recasting H817open as a connectivist course

lightbulb

Having blogged previously about investigating connectivist pedagogy, in response to Activity 19 on H817, I thought I would consider how the H817 MOOC might be made more connectivist.  Actually this begs the question, in what ways is H817 not a connectivist course? After all it ticks many of the boxes outlined in Siemens (2004) connectivist elements:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

H817 encourages discussion  and there are a variety of opinions and sources offered although (unsurprisingly) a lot that are from the Weller, Cormier, Siemens and Downes stable.
There is of course diversity in the learners’ opinions through their blogs and forum posts.

I think that the diversity element could be more stressed where there is more activity towards creating a curriculum. There is a general positivity towards openness, and more detractors in the readings or in live sessions in the form of debates might be helpful.

Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

This happens in various ways – for example through the blog aggregator. However the presentation of the course in the Open Learn VLE is linear and the way the groups have developed suggests more of a mini series of networks than a larger network. For example, some people on forums, others on Google +, some H817 formal learners staying in their tutor groups, others going it alone on blogs or just sampling.

I am not sure it is possible to say whether this course has connected specialised nodes or information sources beyond making links to relevant readings and peer connections – the very nature of network building is that it is unpredictable. Perhaps post-course analytics might help establish the formation of a network.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

The products and outputs of H817open will reside online, on blogs, discussions and as an OER so in that sense it will reside in a non-human appliance. (This is different from learning residing in a text book or lecturer videos because that is not learning – those are static teaching materials). The digital footprint that learning leaves is in the artefacts and products produced by learners at the moments of learning through responses to activities or on reflection.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

This might be understood as ‘learning to learn’ or nurturing the network so that participants have the network in place to enable further learning as and when required. The work on developing Personal learning networks stressed this. I am not sure how to measure this or design for this, but activities that encourage discovery and critical thinking (like this one) will encourage the development of a PLN and an attitude to ‘building the pipe’ (Siemens, 2004).

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

H817 can, I would argue, be worked through individually, so this is not necessarily true. The activities do state that blogging, commenting on blogs etc is a task to help facilitate connections and continual learning. However, the lack of mandated group work does not allow for the practice of collaborative working or a requirement that connections happen.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

The activities required that participants synthesize and bring together ideas presented. The activities that gave the opportunity to earn badges (OER and MOOC understanding) could formally be seen to encourage this. However, with no formal assessment, it is difficult for participants to know if they have achieved this, although comments by peers on blogs can give some indication.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

H817 set down a curriculum that focussed on openness in HE and appears to have current resources in the form of readings, interviews and other media. The use and sharing of relevant research (on MOOCs for example) as it happens via Twitter and the Google+ group indicates that some participants actively share current knowledge.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

The linear structure of the course and the emails that focussed on what to do if one was short of time acted against learners really deciding what to learn, as by signing up for this MOOC there is an implicit contract to accept what is offered. Participants constantly reported feeling stressed that they were behind and apologised for not getting through all the week’s activities. Some students, especially open learners, appear more free to pick and choose what they are interested in, but for many OU learners with an assignment following the MOOC, deciding not to choose to study something might be desirable but had to be made with one eye on the formal assessment.

Towards a connectivist design

Working through this suggests that there are many areas in which there are ‘maybes, perhaps, could be’. This post has made me realise that perhaps it is only possible to design for connectivist learning rather than design connectivist learning. The latter immediately mandates that learners must do such and such, which immediately negates learners’ decision making process and the meaning of incoming information. Designing for connectivist learning accepts that it is not possible to predict or control the learning that may (or may not) happen.

So how might connectivist learning be designed for?

Well, first of all if it looks like a traditional course (and H817 does) then many students will treat it as such. If there are activities, weeks, set readings arranged in a linear fashion, then students will assume that this is the way to do it. This is evident in some of the angst going on within the course forums, twitter, Google + as well as in the spaces only for H817 formal learners  such the H817 Facebook group as well in Tutor group forums. One option might be to throw out a linear course design altogether in favour of a problem or project-based approach with mandated group work. This thought-provoking post focusses on the importance of group work  in MOOCs (Cain, 2013) while Siemens (2013) advocates for group work and problem based learning within MOOCs.

Another area that might contribute to a more connectivist feel is the role of instructor or expert presence. The pedagogical value of this appears contested in the ‘sage on the sage’ and ‘guide on the side’ debates where the ‘sage on the stage’ is being replaced by the ‘guide on the side’. This is something I have previously blogged about when I was taking part in the BONKopen MOOC, where I slightly dispute that taking the sage of the stage is always effective, especially for motivation. This seems to be reinforced in recent article about how students on a Coursera course commented on the lack of an instructor in favour of what might be considered a more ‘connectivist’ course (Parr, 2013).

In fact this leads me to consider whether we should evaluate the value of the role of experts, lectures and the ‘sage on the stage’. Change11 was a cMOOC that heavily focussed on experts delivering a live lecture as the centre point of that week’s learning – a design that accords with Downes’ (2007) approach to connectivist teaching that has the teacher in the role of modelling and demonstrating. With social media and technology, the effects of the expert can be amplified through the connections made around the live event, much like attending a conference with a Twitter feed. Conversations and connections happen in real time during (say) a live presentation and then afterwards as recordings and associated resources are made available, commented on, blogged etc. While not only applicable to a connectivist approach, synchronous events can help establishing momentum and motivation giving learners a chance to interact with authentic practitioners at a distance, which can help build and nurture the network.

I said in a previous blog post that H817 looks like an xMOOC and behaves like a cMOOC. I would qualify that slightly now –  in looking like an xMOOC (linear week by week activities, no mandated group work, short video snippets) it may be that this militates against the nurturing of broader connectivist behaviours. Nevertheless, H817 also has positive connectivist elements such as the focus on blogging and responding to others’ blogs, the blog aggregator and optional badges rather than any formal assessment, yet could be enhanced with more frequent live expert interactions and group activities.

References

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Cain, G. (2013) MOOCs, ‘Group work and Instructional Design’, Brianstorm in Progress, 17 April [Online]. Available at http://cain.blogspot.com/2013/04/moocs-group-work-and-instructional.html

Parr,C. (2013) ‘How was it? The UK’s first Coursera MOOCs assessed’, THE, 18 April [Online]. Available at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/how-was-it-the-uks-first-mooc-assessed/2003218.article

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [Online]. Available from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G. (2013) ‘Group work advice for MOOC providers’, Elearnspace, 10 March [Online]. Available at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/03/10/group-work-advice-for-mooc-providers/

Image courtesy of Smarnad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Investigating a connectivist pedagogy

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This post is a commentary on reading What Connectivism is (Downes 2007) as preparation for designing a course outline along connectivist principles.

Although I have blogged previously on connectivism, I still find it tricky to understand what it means in terms of what knowledge looks like in a connectivist course is (even whether there is a course) and how it is a different approach from  a Community of Practice or social learning approach, that also focusses on a network and community. Having read Stephen Downes’s article (a number of times), I pulled out some quotes that might shed light on the pedagogy for designing a connectivist course .

First, let’s start with a definition:

“connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.”

OK, so this suggests that we shouldn’t aim to construct knowledge but that we should construct networks and navigate them.

Downes reinforces this:

“Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience”

So this sounds like the knowledge is only apparent when the networks are in place, as the learning is creating the networks. This implies that individuals have to give and share in a network. If they don’t share (network), no one will know/learn as there won’t be actions or experience to learn from.

Now, to me this also sounds like Community of Practice approach to learning where actions and experience will vary from expert to novice. But connectivism is  more limited than a CoP, where in a CoP purpose (intention) is both participation and reification to a specific goal (Wenger, 1998). Here is what Downes says (my emphasis):

“[Connectivism] it is not more than the process of making connections. That’s why learning is at once so simple it seems it should be easily explained and so complex that it seems to defy explanation (cf. Hume on this). How can learning – something so basic that infants and animals can do it – defy explanation? As soon as you make learning an intentional process (that is, a process that involves the deliberate creation of a representation) you have made these simple cases difficult, if not impossible, to understand.”

Continuing this vein of how connectivism is different is his assertion:

“see, that’s the difference between a cognitivist theory and a connectionist theory. The cognitivist thinks deeply by reasoning through a long sequence of steps. The non-cognitivist thinks deeply by ‘seeing’ more intricate and more subtle patterns. It is a matter of recognition rather than inference.”

So what this might be saying that knowledge is being able to recognise that at that moment, from the patterns that exist right there, you can recognise what something is and (presumably) what there is to do about it (knowledge). Again, it is being in the moment rather than evaluating/analysing from what you know (long sequence of steps).

OK, so I understand that learning is only about the process of making connections. So, how do you make those connections? Here’s a clue:

“the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways”

Again, this sounds like a Community of Practice  – participation and learning is about growth and development of an identity (rather than acquiring knowledge). However, there is a difference between this and a CoP approach – there is no transfer of knowledge from expert to novice. Knowledge is not an acquired thing – it is just the network. The knowledge is the network. The pedagogy  for a connectivist approach therefore

“seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner)).”

Well that’s a relief. There are roles for a teacher and learner. So a connectivist approach in a course would involve practices with a teacher having certain roles and a learner having certain roles. What might those practices be? They are practices that enable the network to come into being.

Let’s consider the teacher’s role. The teacher ‘models and demonstrates’. I am not sure what this really means if it is NOT meant to be behaviourist (here is how to do something – now do it), so it is more likely to be practices on how to build the network, or actually just building the network.  Such practices might be through aggregating, asking questions, blogging, bringing together experts, and curating resources in the way Change MOOC was run. The modelling and demonstrating means that that learners are then able to do the same and interact with peers. Learners  add to the construction of the network through practices such as discussions, blogging, building artefacts and collaborative writing, reflecting on their learning as they do so.

It would appear that in the course of such practice and reflection, students are likely to make representations of knowledge – but according to Downes (which I admit I have probably imperfectly understood), the representation is not independent of the network, so it exists only in the point in time as part of the network. It may no longer be knowledge another day.

Right, I’m nearly at the end now.  In case the reader is somewhat lost, Downes has some comforting words:

“So there’s a certain sense, I think, in which the understandings of previous theories will not translate well into connectivism, for after all, even basic words and concepts acquire new meaning when viewed from the connectivist perspective.”

So we might not even have the shared language of previous learning theory to describe connectivism! That makes it tricky to devise a framework for learning design.  Still what I have gleaned from this reading is that a connectivist pedagogy for course design should support practices that construct the network, with a role for teachers and learners.

References

Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Wenger, E (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Image courtesy of Sheela Mohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: A Tale of Two MOOCs

This post looks at two MOOCs: Change MOOC and Coursera and compares the technology, pedagogy and other general approaches. I researched this post by reviewing the Change MOOC website and was able to draw on my own experience as an occasional lurker on that course late 2011 and 2012. Additionally, this week, I joined Coursera and signed up for Gamification which started at the beginning of April 2013. I have moved around the Gamification course, listened to some videos and viewed the discussion forums. Additionally, I read blogs of participants who had taken both these MOOCs previously to  provide an insight into some of the issues from learners themselves.

Technology

Change MOOC comprises of a course website with the course schedule, speaker names and relevant information including  help on how to succeed in MOOCs. A daily email newsletter was produced during the course  and a blog aggregator using gRSShopper  aggregated participants’ blog posts.  Elluminate was used for the live events.  There were no prescribed technologies for participants; the site states that ‘participants will use a variety of technologies, for example blogs, Second Life, RSS Readers, Ustream etc.’ (Change MOOC). Change MOOC adheres to what is typically considered a cMOOC mashup approach with a central web based platform and then distributed tools for engagement and where the actual work happens.

Coursera offers participating universities a technology platform for hosting and delivering MOOCS so it cannot be necessarily assumed that one Coursera course is like another, as individual courses may give different emphasis to different tools. There are however some core tools that comprise typical LMS features such as learner profile/dashboard pages, week by week readings and assignment, video lectures, quizzes, and discussion forums for discussion week’s activities. Unlike Change MOOC, all of these are hosted inside the platform. However, on the Gamification MOOC at least, the instructor encouraged Twitter and Google+ interaction. The discussion forums look reasonably populated. There’s also a course wiki which leads the user to a Coursera wiki system, currently marked as ‘beta’, where students are encouraged to upload resources.

Gamification1

Screen shot of Coursera menu and video links

One aspect of Coursera is the importance of video lectures. The quality and style of video was attractive with short snippets and good production quality. Videos appear to be released a few weeks at a time, with tracking of what has been viewed.

While both Change MOOC and the Gamification course supply a useful contrast between a central platform offering all tools to learners and distributed platform offering tool suggestions and accepting learner contrived spaces into the platform (through the blog aggregator), in reality the influence of social media, even on a central platform such as Coursera is apparent in the blogs, tweets, wiki option and communities that exist for each course. Additionally, Coursera provides links to Meetup to encourage physical meetups for students taking Coursera classes.

Pedagogy

Change MOOC aligns with connectivist pedagogy where the learning happens in the interactions of students with content and instructors. Change MOOC enabled synchronous contact with high calibre individuals allowing for direct contact and questions from students.The students are able to make whatever meaning and products they want to through blogs, discussions with none being mandatory, although some might be recommended.

Change11_1

Change MOOC description on website.

As each week is facilitated by a different researcher or expert, the format and style of any activities varies week to week. There is no formal assessment for students on Change MOOC, nor any sort of certificate of completion. A comment on Cloudworks from one of the Change MOOC instructors indicates that this open pedagogy challenged instructors to deliver a week’s worth of learning in such a distributed course (comment from Diana Laurillard, 1:25pm, 4 July 2012)

The Coursera platforms’s core pedagogy is more instructivist with recommended videos and readings followed by quizzes and writing assignments. On the Gamification course, there is a peer grading exercise, which replaces a more traditional instructor feedback, not possible due to the number of participants. Assessment is very clearly linked to participating in the course. The  course blurb states that they consider students who do not take part in assessments to be ‘auditing’ the course. This does not really take into account that learning might be taking place elsewhere or even what activities might constitute as achieving the learning outcomes. Even taking a quiz late incurs penalty points.

One consequence of this difference is that is is fairly easy to ‘fail’ a Coursera MOOC if you don’t follow a pathway, while there is no such concept on Change 11.

It is possible that the presence of assessment may put off some students, especially if they fault to complete the first quiz and may lead to demotivation. On the other hand, the presence of assessment goals may motivate others. It’s not clear if assessment impacts on drop out rates as drop out rates are high on both cMOOCs and xMOOCs, but this could be a fruitful area of research .

General approach and philosophy.

With Coursera, the whiff of commercialisation and possible monetization is immediately evident. When I signed up for the (free) Gamification site, I was immediately prompted as to whether I wanted to join the ‘Signature Track’ for USD39, which would verify my identity through a photo and typing style which would create a biometric profile, with which I could sign my assignments and for which I would get some sort of verification certificate. And  if I was quite serious about doing this course, I might well buy this, if only to keep me on track. The instructor’s book is also made gently available to buy, even though it is stated it is not necessary. But I imagine if I was enjoying the course, I might well buy the book, especially as it is available on Kindle for about $5.

In a restriction of openness, Coursera course materials and videos are not openly licenced, and I don’t think it is possible to even view previous presentations of the course once it is complete.

No such commercial elements are apparent in Change 11, which seems to be more like a very long online conference and way of gathering some brilliant OER over 7 months. All the content is available aggregated, captured and created is available and the site serves as a valuable resource.  A community may still exist as learners formed groups during the course. I lurked a little in Change MOOC and when I went back into it again, I was pleased that I could go back to view videos for weeks I would have liked but couldn’t at the time.

Conclusions

While these differences seem stark, on both of these MOOCs, it is clear that there is passion on the part of instructors for the subject and the desire to share that passion with others. This is a difference I have noticed with MOOCs and formal online learning; the MOOC format seems to ignite some sort of passion and drive. Beyond personal inclination however, it is evident that Coursera is also a business entity. This impacts on what success means in a MOOC.

Completion rates and notion of success are an interesting area to discuss. The completion rate for the first Gamification presentation was 10% (Jordan, 2013), which seems to be an average completion rate for a Coursera course. I haven’t been able to find data for Change MOOC and I am not sure it is a meaningful question, as I think people could follow it without registering. However, even posing the question about whether drop-out rates are necessarily an indicator of a poor course is perhaps premature, since it is not clear why a student leaves a course or why a student even chooses to participate.

Perhaps they never intended to finish it. Signing up isn’t the same as committing, especially as no money has exchanged hands. Students may be using a course as OER to support formal study they are doing and might get what they need from a snippet or two. Leaving a course is not necessarily a sign of failing, although evidence on the digital literacies needed to engage in connectivist MOOCs is emerging (Kop, 2011).

Follow-up research on Change MOOC on how learners acted has revealed different groups of learners ranging from lurkers, passive participants (wanting a traditional learning experience with goals being set by course) and active learners (setting their own goals, creating artifacts, social networking). While these are broad (and contestable) categories (Hill, 2013), the research indicated it is these ‘passive participants’ that struggle to find direction and location in a connectivist MOOC (Kop 2011) and for whom a Coursera approach might be more attractive.

While Change 11 and Coursera seem miles apart in pedagogical approach and philosophy, asking which one is better for learning is the wrong question. If learning is to be truly learner-centred, there’s value in giving learners (and instructors) choices and experiences with different types of learning environments. Coursera’s seeming dominance in this sphere (Siemens, 2013) is also pointing to interesting developments; will there be one MOOC platform to rule them all and what will this look like, or can Coursera prove to a be a powerful force for experimentation and innovation in this space?

All in all, this has been an enjoyable and immersive activity. Despite negativity towards the pedagogical underpinnings of xMOOCS (Daniel 2012), there are evident co-influencing factors between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Is H817open a cMOOC or an xMOOC? Four weeks in, to me, it looks like an xMOOC but behaves like a cMOOC.

References

Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18 [online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18

Hill, P (2013) The Four Student Archetypes Emerging in MOOCs, e-Literate  [Online] 2 March. Available at http://mfeldstein.com/the-four-student-archetypes-emerging-in-moocs/

Jordan, K (2013) Synthesising MOOC completion rates, MOOCMoocher [Online] 13 February. Available at http://moocmoocher.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/synthesising-mooc-completion-rates/

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online], http://www.irrodl.org/ index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 882 

Siemens, G, (2013) Coursera needs to start acting like a platform, Elearnspace 14 March  [Online] http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2013/03/14/coursera-needs-to-start-acting-like-a-platform/

H817open: MOOC ideas

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I was thinking about the requirements of Activity 12 on H817open which is to ‘briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training’.

Browsing fellow MOOCer, Nat Nelson’s post on potential MOOC learners being staff sparked off some ideas. I support other staff (L&D, trainers and teachers) who are integrating technology into teaching and learning. An MOOC that builds a personal learning environment for trainers’ evolving job roles or a MOOC on building a personal toolkit would support continuing professional development –  participants  would be using the tools themselves to gather appropriate tools and techniques about learning design for elearning and blended learning,  how to curate resources to build domain knowledge and keep up with developments, and engage in reflection on practice.

Another group I have been thinking about are parents who are worried about digital literacy, internet safety and want to get more familiar with tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Dropbox, Google search techniques etc. A MOOC would function as an open course to build familiarity with the various tools that they are concerned about, while more experienced parents (and kids) could share their expertise. The purpose would be to develop shared experience and knowledge around these issues and engage with good practices such as appropriate representation in social media, searching for resources online, engaging on Twitter and .  Hmm..I like the idea of developing a MomMOOC.

I see a cMOOC approach to both of these possible MOOCs rather than a  traditional instructivist design. Both these groups are communities whose members have much to offer. One aim might be to build a resource toolkit for other members of the community, so co-construction of curriculum would be part of the MOOC practice. While there isn’t a requirement for formal assessments, badges might prove to be motivators and signposts of key learning moments.

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: Considering big and little OERs

eggs

This post considers the benefits and drawbacks of ‘big’ and ‘little’ OERs as described by Weller (2012). Big OERs are institutional approaches to OER content production with MIT OpenCourseWare and OpenLearn as prominent examples, while little OERs are the potential ‘by-products’ of everyday academic practice, currently often wasted or hidden away. Weller (2011a) gives the example of a small OER where on attending a conference, instead of producing a Conference paper that few people read, he produces a blog post and if presenting uploads the slides. To this, one could add archiving the Twitter stream. All of these products are small OERs as they can be used in a teaching context.

The case for investing in small OER practices is compelling:

In terms of traffic to sites, the user-generated content sites have impressive statistics: more than 100 million monthly for YouTube, 4.3 million for Scribd and 1.75 million for Slideshare (figures from http://www.compete.com for July 2010). These dwarf the statistics for most higher education projects; for instance the most well-established OER site, MIT’s OpenCourseWare site (http://ocw.mit.edu), has 200,000 visitors monthly, the OU’s OpenLearn 21,000 and the learning object repository MERLOT 17,000.
(Weller, 2011b)

Such differences in the accessing of such resources suggests that practices that encourage ‘little OERs’ can pose significant advantages for individuals and institutions.

Arguments for: ‘Small OER good, Big OER bad’

The advantage of producing small OERs is the potential reach and the long tail effect – where the interests of a large number of people can be served if there are many groups of small numbers of people allowing for serving niche communities. As small OERs are often by-products or replace writing for a closed audience with an open audience, the cost and production effort is minimal.

Whether small OERs can really be seen as an alternative option to big OERs, it is not only the actual products of small OERs that are important. Potentially, the practice of small ‘OERing’ helps to embed practices that big OER projects might struggle, as some big OERs are seen as standalone projects are seen as someone else’s responsibility.

Big OERs on the other hand are part of more complex publishing and production cycles and liable to be subject to economic and funding constraints, as happened when the USU OER project was mothballed. Their complexity and need to serve the largest possible numbers for a particular subject limits the granularity and potential diversity. Even though they are meant to be remixed, relatively small numbers of users are remixing.

Arguments for ‘Small OER bad, Big OER good’

On the other hand, the risks with small OERs as a practice for impact are issues of quality (if anyone can put anything up, this poses risk to an institution), lack of procedures for updating and maintenance, the lack of design (if it wasn’t intended as an OER) and lack of specific educational goals may preclude use that is contextually relevant. The reliance on free services is also a risk, as attested by networks such as Ning removing a free service and blog service Posterous being shut down by Twitter. (This risk is slightly mitigated by the likelihood that, like buses, there is another free service around the corner).

Small OERs also depends on a critical mass of people willing to engage in small OER practices, otherwise the approach risks being an echo chamber, yet our understanding of participation in the social web suggests that most people will consume rather than create, and the barriers to small OER approaches are cultural, attitudinal and institutional – most people will need motivation of advancement or ‘what’s in it for me’ to be prepared to put in the extra (even of small) time and to learn skills, even if very simple.

Big OER projects on the other hand have set goals and a production process which ensures a level of quality and credibility, hence most big OERs tend to be used as is. While this militates against sharing and re-use, it does enable others to re-use without too much effort high quality teaching materials that have (hopefully) been designed effectively. Small OERs, operating at a lower level of granularity, require more effort to fit into a wider resource or teaching framework.

Conclusions

It is clear that both big and small OERs are not really a threat to each other.  Weller (2011a) uses the broadcasting media versus internet publishing analogy to illustrate how big and small OERs come into being and the relative advantages of small OERs to allow us to do things we haven’t been able to before. Looking at it from the potential consumer’s point of view, I can stretch this analogy by considering the motivation of going to the cinema to watch a film or going to Youtube to watch videos.

As a consumer, I know that if I go to the cinema I’ll get a full featured (possibly even 3D) experience, where I don’t have to do much more that go in, buy my popcorn and sit there. However, there’s a limited choice of what I can watch even in a multiplex and some days I will find there is nothing there for me. This is how big OER might be for a consumer. (I realise that the analogy doesn’t quite work as I can remix big OER and I can’t remix a movie, but in terms of behaviour, considering that few people do remix big OER, I’m going to keep going.)

However, if I choose to find something to watch on YouTube, I’ll have a lot of choice and I might find some brilliant and unique pieces of filming. I can construct my own viewing, as long as I have a little technical know-how and I can see what others have seen and recommended. I might even be inspired to write a review or make my own comments and connect with the film-maker. However I might not be sure if it really suits me as it seems rather random and there is so much of it.

On any given day going to the cinema or to YouTube is a valid strategy.

The big OER providers such as MIT OCW and OpenLearn have made high quality content and resources available to many people, places and institutions. Such developments can be and are being enhanced where big OERs are placed on Web 2.0 services rather than or as well as in OER-specific repositories to help their findability or that the repositories are better linked to the open web. Considering that most people seem to Google to find stuff, better SEO of big OER might make these OERs more visible and accessible. At the same time, investing in small OER practices expands the definition of OERs, while lessening the barriers to participation in the OER movement. However, training and support for small OER practices is required to get to a critical mass of participation and beyond early adopters and enthusiasts.

References

Weller, M. (2011a) Academic Output as Collateral Damage [online], slidecast. Available at http://www.slideshare.net/ mweller/ academic-output-as-collateral-damage

Weller, M. (2011b) ‘Public engagement as collateral damage’ in The Digital Scholar, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Also available online at http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/ view/ DigitalScholar_9781849666275/ chapter-ba-9781849666275-chapter-007.xml

Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at http://jime.open.ac.uk/ jime/ article/ view/ 2012-02

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: OER sustainability

3trees

Sustainability is the ‘daddy of all the arguments‘ (Weller, 2010) around the OER movement, and Activity 10 on the H817open MOOC was to evaluate the four initiatives (Change MOOC, Coursera, Jorum and OpenLearn) to see to what extent they fit one of three models of funding OERs as outlined by Wiley (2007). (Spoiler alert, in what is a deliberate and cunning move on part of the course authors,  I don’t think they are supposed to fit neatly).

Wiley (2007) defines sustainability as ‘an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals’ and that sustainability has two components:

i) to sustain the production and sharing of open content

ii) to sustain the use and re-use of OERs.

Both these elements have human as well as technology and infrastructure costs.

So first, a summing up of the three models:

  • MIT model: All courses offered by MIT; paid staff, donor and institutional funding, large-scale course development and delivery, course authoring at USD10k per course.
  • USU model: Some courses offered by USU; donor and institutional funding; mix of paid staff and volunteers; course authoring USD5k per course.
  • Rice Connexions: Some courses offered by many institutions; volunteer based; use of open source software to build tools, no course authoring costs.

So how might the models apply to the following initiatives?

Change MOOC

What it is trying to do

This is a connectivist MOOC offered for free by volunteer instructors, using open-source and web 2.0 tools. The course materials and guest lectures are provided free, as (I presume) is the time of the course conveners.

Sustainability model

As a model, it would appear to be akin to the Rice Connexions model. Content appears to be made available from individuals as volunteers.  Small degree of control while the software and tools used are  open source and free to use Web 2.0 tools.

In this case the course itself as it exists is an OER because it is freely available for access and re-use, and as it is volunteer based, it would be possible to run it again on the same terms without additional investment. However, there doesn’t appear to be any overt commitment that it will be run again, so from that point of view, I am not sure that it fits into the Rice Connexions model, which is ongoing and self-sustaining.

Coursera

What it’s trying to do

Coursera won Techcrunch’s ‘Start up of the year in 2012’ and is an x-MOOC (rather than a connectivist cMOOC), where it provides a platform for (elite) universities to offer free courses in a fairly traditional format. It claims to be supporting and evolving good online pedagogy. However, on its current model,  it feels the least open of any of the services evaluated in that it restricts who can share content (offer courses) and it restricts re-use of the content.

Sustainability model

Coursera has venture capital funding and centralised control over the platform and pedagogy so is akin to the MIT model in this respect. It charges licencing fees to institutions and charging employers for access to potential employees (students). Content is therefore  provided for free from institutions and instructors, although each institution might apply a different model to produce the content. Also, while Coursera is a MOOC platform provider, it is not an OER producer as its materials are not openly licenced. It is also looking at licencing content from one institution to another which would result in credit for some students from third-party institutions.

None of Wiley’s models fit Coursera. While it does allow many institutions to contribute, it differs from the the Rice Connexions model in that it charges institutions to participate and is focussing on attracting elite universities.  In experimenting with business models that charge for services to set up and run courses, credentialing and recruitment, it is evolving towards a different model of sustainability.

Jorum

What it’s trying to do

Jorum is a repository to offer OER finding and hosting services. There are two categories of user; ordinary users can browse and download content, while registered users can upload and contribute content and participate in discussions.

Sustainability model

Jorum has central government funding; it is funded by JISC and appears to have paid staff.  Its sustainability model is not clear, but by offering a platform for uploading of OER, it is building capacity for production, sharing and re-use. It is similar to the MIT/USU model in that it has central (government funding) but has elements of the Rice Connexions model in hosting content from multiple institutions, but is less open as only vetted registered users can submit content.

OpenLearn

What it’s trying to do

OpenLearn offers parts of OU courses as free online resources and offers tools for educators to re-use and upload remixed materials. Through offering parts of courses, it hopes to get fully signed up paying students who are attracted by the free taster content (Johansen & Wiley, 2010)

Sustainability model

OpenLearn looks most like the MIT model – with donor funding and institutional funding,  centralised control and mostly paid staff, while content is only from the OU. However, is it similar to the  the USU model as not all courses are available. It also operates a ‘freemium’ model where some course content is given away for free to attract future paying students.

OpenLearn’s future sustainability should now perhaps be looked in context as an evolution of the OU’s open content approaches with the announcement and planned for 2013 launch of Futurelearn, an OU owned private company which will offer a MOOC platform to signed up universities. This seems like a Coursera model, although details are still to be announced.

Further musings

It was interesting to look at these how these projects can be sustainable especially considering two are MOOCs rather than OER initiatives, which suggests that OERs might just be part of something bigger in open learning. Since the USU initiative was mothballed in 2009 due to a lack of continuing financial support from donors or the institution, it seems that it is important to go  big and evolve OERs to be part of MOOC offerings (MIT, OpenLearn, Coursera), diversify the types of options for sustainability such as having a marketing model where the OER helps sign up paying students (Johansen & Wiley, 2010), have a business-focussed model for selling support services such as Coursera, or start making OERs part of the institution’s core work. Alternatively, the Change MOOC and Rice Connexions model suggest that it is possible to go entirely the voluntary route using free everything and rely on the value participating gives to human volunteers. This allows for experimentation without too much upfront commitment.

References

Johansen, J., & Wiley, D. (2010)  ‘A sustainable model for OpenCourseWare development’ Educational Technology Research And Development. Available at http://hdl.lib.byu.edu/1877/2353

Weller, M. (2010) ‘Those OER issues’ The Ed Techie. 10 February [Online]. Available at:
http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2010/02/those-oer-issues.html

Wiley, D. (2007) ‘On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher
Education’ Paper commissioned by the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation
(CERI) for the project on Open Educational Resources. Available at:
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/33/9/38645447.pdf

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

H817open: to BY or not to BY, that is the question

This post is a response to Activity 9 which asked participants to choose a Creative Commons licence for this blog and other writing.

This has been a challenging activity because I’m torn between wanting to be ‘open’ and wanting to protect my own work. My instinct is to go for a  CC:BY:NC:SA licence. It would seem entirely reasonable that anything I produce should be attributed to me (BY), that it should not be used for commercial purposes (NC), and that if anyone uses it they should also release it under the same licence (SA – share-alike). While this may seem restrictive, my attitude is somewhat coloured by a nasty experience I had online a few years ago. I had a poem published in an online anthology of writing as part of an output of a writing group. (It was very much a work in progress and not at all good). Some months later I went to access the poem and couldn’t remember where the blog URL was so I just typed in my name and some lines of the poem. When the results came up, I didn’t recognise some lines of the poem. To cut a long story short, it transpired that someone had taken some of the poems produced in a group blog, republished them somewhere else online and changed them in an offensive way, while attributing the ‘revised’ poem to the original author. I felt slightly sick at the time. Luckily the blog editor was able to get the ‘revised’ poems removed. This experience has exposed me to the less savoury aspects of open content and publishing online. It’s also the case that with a work of fiction or creative writing, I would want to retain full copyright and not allow for re-use or re-mixing in any case.

So back to considering what Creative Commons licence I should use for this blog and my online professional and academic writing.  I decided to do some research into the implications of the various restrictions. There doesn’t seem to be any problem around the BY clause, but the other two (NC and SA) seem to bring up pros and cons.

First, NC is apparently a quite difficult clause to apply, because what constitutes commercial could be a grey area. What about websites which host advertising? What about including articles with an NC licence as part of a paid for course? Would I really consider re-use of my posts commercial if they were hosted on a website that had some income generating activities? Because who or what constitutes commercial use is unclear, this may put off scrupulous people who wouldn’t want to take the risk, even though the NC licence is less restrictive than might be commonly thought. I found this post from David Wiley’s blog informative which seems to argue that even with an ‘NC’ licence, in the case of open content, only the OER itself can’t be charged for,  but the services around it could be. So a university or a for profit could use materials with an NC licence but it would still be OK because they are charging for services around the OER and not the OER itself. The status of derived materials or newly re-mixed materials is not so clear cut though – of the newly remixed material was sold as a new product – this would seem to be overtly commercial. I am not sure how I feel about that. So, what are the implications of NOT having an NC clause? Well, CC-BY does indeed allow resale — of something that is already on the Internet for free. After all anyone who pays for content already under CC-BY is paying for being too lazy to search the Internet. However, there appear to be risks with going without the NC clause. For example, status of re-mixes is unresolved, so I think I am going to stay with the NC clause for the blog. (If I were producing a resource that I wanted to actively give away and be re-used, I might take off the NC clause). With this blog though I want to share ideas and connect with people.

Now onto  ‘Share-Alike’. While on the face of it SA appears to be sticking to the mantra of ‘pay it forward’, reading up about it is really confusing me. What share alike means is that if this blog post or resources I am sharing, if you reuse it or remix it, you must also release it under the same licence. Seems fair enough to me. But I found this post of David Wiley’s helpful where he seems to be saying it depends on the perspective. The SA licence prevents others from releasing any new OER under any other licence they choose, which depending on the perspective one has, is either  freeing/protecting the content or is restricting the people using the content: what if the new derivative maker wants to release it on a CC:BY? As Wiley says, SA is helpful for the content perspective but not for people: who is more important?

I decided to look at this issue from a licensee’s point of view.  If I wanted to use my own blog post, I would be happy to attribute it, and I don’t think it is right to make commercial use of someone else’s work, so NC stays. But what about Share Alike? Well, considering I have the NC clause, I don’t feel particularly strongly that people should have to release a derivation on a ‘Share-alike’ although I would like them to.  (This only applies to derivations and not copies, which can be released under any CC licence).

Therefore, I am going to release this blog under a CC:BY:NC. Anything more restrictive seems like overkill for this particular blog. And here it is…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.