Open CourseWare and Open Education in Life Science

A week to go and I shall be leaving on a jet plane for the big learning technology conference in the US. Although speaking for 50 minutes is a considerable amount of time it has been a challenge to summarise all our work on open education (or Open CourseWare as they would say in the States) in the life sciences that we have undertaken at De Montfort over the last 3 or 4 years or so. Well the slides are now uploaded to SLIDESHARE so I can fiddle with them no more.

Open CourseWare in Life Sciences Talk


What is Open CourseWare?

Open CourseWare is just another term for Open Education that is more widely used in the US and other parts of the world. In the UK, we refer to Open Educational Resources or Open Education. It is all part of a changing face of global education where universities, colleges and schools are simply sharing their learning resources, course materials and STUFF via the internet. This is not just for their own students and staff to benefit from, but ANYONE who wishes to look, whether they are enrolled students, informal learners or just plain curious!

Why the Change?

A few universities tinkered with open education and sharing materials in the 1990’s but it was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that launched the OpenCourseWare initiative in the millennium to really drive sharing big time, mainly by developing the web portal or software to be able to upload and share. It also seems to me to change an organisation is such a dramatic way, ALL the staff and students must have believed in the philosophy behind it and there must have been strong leadership and resources to make the shift. The key that really unlocked the doors to education establishments came a little later with the advent and adoption of the open license Creative Commons.

MIT Here I Come!

So this all makes me very excited that as part of my trip I shall be visiting MIT and hearing all about their Open CourseWare activities. All their students have access to resources before their classes and courses, and this means that lectures and sessions can be more wisely used discussing and exploring rather than simply delivering.  This might seem straight forward, but to make resources openly available the institution must own the copyright before they can place an open license on it. We are permitted to use resources provided by publishers, or perhaps use images that perhaps we don’t have permissions for, so sharing my materials personally is sometimes quite a lengthy process.

Boston Beans

Whilst visiting MIT and Boston in general I shall also take in Harvard University and Boston University itself. Being a bean fiend, I certainly hope to sample the local cuisine and of course come hope laden with photographs and video to share as Open CourseWare! Often it isn’t the completed course or resource that is useful, but a simple photograph or video clip illustrating a point. I shall do my best to take photographs of lots of interesting things and share them on Pinterest and Flickr.

So, one week to go and there is plenty to do before I hit Heathrow next Tuesday morning. Now where is that passport?


Forensic scientist skills – fingerprints!

What is a forensic scientist and what skills do they need?

Forensic scientist skills - fingerprinting
Image: Fingerprint morphology
Creative Commons BY SA.

Content Authors:

Dr Mark Fowler


College, University, Specialist

OER Features:

A set of 11 photographs showing the morphology of the fingerprint.

Forensic scientist training photographs


OER Description:

Part of Forensic Science degrees and courses at university and an essential part of training for the forensic scientist will be the understanding finger prints – that is the patterns and impressions left by human fingers and thumbs. The morphology of the finger comprises of a series of ridges called friction ridges which are formed by the epidermis of the skin.

The epidermis is formed from a stratified squamous epithelium which is keratinized – that is – it contains a tough protein to make the skin barrier impenetrable and tough. The complex patterns of the friction ridges mean that practically no two finger prints are identical; therefore they are useful identifiers of individuals who may have been present at the scene of a crime. The identification of fingerprints is known as dactyloscopy, and learning how to identify prints and use them to provide robust crime scene evidence is an important part of the job of a forensic scientist.

At the scene of a crime, finger prints may be left naturally by sweat and or oil that might have been released from glands in the skin, or more often powders and inks are applied to highlight the appearance of the prints. The series of photographs in this resource contain high power photographs of the surface of the skin and you might be amazed to see how the ridges form the surface. Other images illustrate the important components of the finger print itself that are used by the forensic scientist as part of their investigations.



Biology Courses US Road Trip!

Well it has been a while and it might look like nothing has been happening, but the Biology Courses team have been busy working on this website and packaging up some of our open educational resources (OERs) into online courses with quizzes and feedback.

The other exciting news it that Dr Viv Rolfe, who heads up the team, in two weeks time will be flying off to the United States for a conference and to meet with academics to talk about the Biology Courses project and open educational resources and activities at De Montfort University in Leicester.

Biology Courses Vegas Trip

City of Las Vegas by DunGoofd at Wikipedia.
CC BY SA 2.0.

In the first leg of the trip Viv will be flying to Las Vegas for an international learning technology conference. (I must stop calling it Las Vagus – once a biologist, always a biologist!). The meeting is the Sloan Consortium Annual Conference entitled “5th Annual International Symposium for Emerging Technologies for Online Learning” and starts at the end of July 2012. It will showcase the work of institutions and academics from around the globe who’s aim is to enhance online education. The conference is in partnership with MERLOT, one of the leading US repositories for open educational resources (OERs). Viv is due to give a 50 minute lecture to the Sloan audience. Is she daunted by the task? Of course not!

Following that she flies to Boston to visit the University of Boston, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT – who were the first education establishment to open their doors and give access to all their learning resources. Since then, it is probably fair to say most universities and colleges around the globe are now involved in open education in some way – either as providers of materials, using materials, or being involved in networks and discussions about open education not just in relation to biology courses but any subject discipline from arts to science.

The Biology Courses project is still only 9 months old and a huge amount has happened, quite often behind the scenes and not always apparent from this website. We have bundles of resources ready to be released, and are developing our Moodle Courses so prospective students and students due to come to university can try out some of the stuff that those doing biology courses at uni will actually experience.

The most exciting thing about the project is that it has involved students from the start providing ideas for materials and writing ALL the quiz and multiple choice questions as part of their biomedical science and medical science degrees at De Montfort. The project is very lucky to have some student volunteers working on it over the summer as well as students on the university’s new “Front Runners” scheme which provides undergraduates with paid work experience from a choice of almost every department around the university, from working in a laboratory, to marketing, finance and more!

So follow this BLOG and look for updates on FACEBOOK and TWITTER to follow Viv’s progress as the Biology Courses project tours the United States in July and August.