Open Education Vancouver Aftermath


What is Open Education?

I ask myself this question regularly and I am at the moment. When you return from some conferences you find your thoughts and underlying philosophies challenged, and I suppose they should be. Open education is certainly changing the world and leading to new opportunities for learners and educators! We talk about the student experience, but I’m all for the “staff experience” too – those working at the coal-face of education, working horrendously long hours, and I’m glad to say, open educational resources (OERs) are making a difference here too. At the OPENED12 conference there were plenty of examples of educators, tutors, teachers, lecturers sharing learning resources and saving time; involving students in open education activities to enrich their learning, and involving external parties and employers in open education to produce high-quality, real-life resources.


OPENED12 Vanvouver


Global picture

What struck me the most from visiting the US and Canada this year is that open education is a growing and living mystical beast that takes on its own form in different countries and continents. This is just my humble perception. One area of impact and the “big hit” in the US is the production of open source text books. (Open text books, e-books, eBooks, or e-by-gum-books as they’d say in Yorkshire). They mean any digital book (delivered by the web or a gadget) that is free or at a reduced-cost to students. So this is when I fell off my chair. “A reduced-cost to students”. How can open text books be marketed using the “open” brand, for which most of the globe believes to represent free in the sense of liberty and cost? How can these books be compiled using OERs and content produced elsewhere (and there were plenty of examples of this). How can commercial companies then use this to market product? Well they can, and they are. And the same goes for commercial companies packaging up OER into on-line courses to sell.

How do they get away with it?

The trouble is, it is difficult to police the terms of the open licences. If I stamp the Creative Commons variant “NC” (non-commercial) on my OER, how can I police where my resources end up? Another get-out-clause is the Creative Commons variant “SA” (share-alike) which means my OER can be commercially exploited (I don’t care about that), but publishers must share the item back. Again, I can’t police this.


Apart from knees trembling and reaching for the gorgonzola, how do we stop the whole open education idea getting smashed-up? The open education community can pledge to use these OER which have been lovingly laboured over, in a fair and just way as they were originally intended. Or perhaps I’m being ridiculous and it doesn’t really matter? Or perhaps I’ve been really daft for the last four or five years and not really understood. But, nay. Open education takes investment of time and money to sustain, so a cut of the profits should be distributed back to the original author. We also need to educate our learners that open education means just that; it doesn’t mean “low-cost” education, no matter how attractive that might also be. Everyone I know in open education does it because they passionately believe in the underlying cause, and it feels like exploitation of my good will, (late nights, bleary eyes), if someone then can make a fast buck out of my efforts.


In my talk I discussed how an OER takes on its own form and life-cycle. A healthy life cycle means OER can be easily found, used and mashed-up by the next user.  Get THIS right and you end up with really “open” and “accessible” materials – OER that is useful for all types of learner with all types of needs.


You can access my slides on Slideshare, available:

Search for “UKOER” or “OPENED12” for plenty of other slides and presentations contributing to the open education debate.


Biology Courses – the Vancouver Experience


It has been an amazing few days at the OpenEd12 conference in Vancouver, and the Biology Courses team presented a paper questioning whether open education initiatives and activities were truly open for business? From their experience of working in open education and sharing university learning materials to global audiences, the paper – written by Phil Tubman and Viv Rolfe – described many examples of open educational resources (OERs) that were not always easily accessible for use, to the point of some OERs being unusable altogether because they were published using software that was now obsolete, or simply didn’t include instructions for use.

With a few simple considerations, such as publishing OERs in a variety of formats and file types, those sharing OERs could ensure that their materials were widely used – and not just be open for business, but also be accessible to users with diverse learning styles who might require the information in different forms. On our biology courses website, we try and do just that, sharing OER in a variety of file types so users can chose what best suits them.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia. (CC BY)

OpenEd Conference Highlights

It was interesting to contrast the different cultural views of what open education actually means to people? Open Education in the UK (UKOER) is driven by the joy and plain common sense of sharing learning resources across higher education communities. In the US, activities seem more focused and universities are increasingly using open text books to ease the financial burden that students face. Several commercial companies talked about reduced-cost books and courses for students.

Another hot topic is teaching on-line on a massive scale also known as the MOOC (massively on-line open course). MOOCs aren’t new in internet circles  although they haven’t been applied to university settings until recently. The educational benefits of large-scale courses to learners and organisations are yet to be seen.

A highlight for the biology courses team were discussions with colleagues from Europe about setting up a science and technology open education network. Even within open education, there is still much duplication of ideas and effort, and building a community of people with shared interests has to be the way forward. So look out for Open STEM Europe, and we hope to participate in a European funding bid next year!

Off-Piste Conference Highlights

It was amazing to visit Vancouver and I’ve never come away from a conference having met so many interesting people, all keen to stay in touch and work together. But OK, down to the highlight, the delegates included a very talented group of musicians who entertained the conference diners on a boat trip around Vancouver harbour, and I was lucky enough to be invited to play. I know “Autumn Leaves” would have been more appropriate, but here is “Summertime” instead.



So here ends this particular stretch of project funding from the JISC/HEA, and as always, it has been a cherished experience working with them. Biology Courses is linking in to National and European initiatives, and work at De Montfort University will include establishing a “Centre for Open Education”. But let me recover from my jet lag first.


Open Education Team Flies to Vancouver


This time next week I shall be heading to the annual “Open Education Conference” in Vancouver. I think it will be a long old flight but it will certainly be worth while the visit with three days of meetings and talks with the open education community from all around the globe.

Creative Commons BY NC SA 2.0 Tom Magliery

What is open education?

There is a global shift toward opening up the doors to education to make sure learning opportunities are available to all. At De Montfort University we have focused on sharing health and science materials through a number of websites such as this one.

How do you make stuff open?

Well you are going to say there is lots of stuff on the web already, and of course you are right. But beware! You have to ask yourself is it good reputable quality? Are you actually breaking copyright law or is the item tagged with a Creative Commons OPEN licence? Can you actually use it or is there some technical problem? So to make an educational resource such as a video or animation truly OPEN it doesn’t just mean placing it on the internet. It means making sure it is accessible by ANYONE who wants to use it. This includes users on PCs and MACs, those using computers, tablet or smart phone devices.

How do we make resources open?

Our plan has always been a simple one – to release open education resources (OERs) in as many formats as needed. So for example a FLASH ANIMATION that cannot be played on a Mac or iPAD, this can be published as a video on YouTube.   All videos and animations with narrations are also TRANSCRIBED and shared as documents and PDFs. You might think this is a pile of extra work, but it isn’t really. It is a case of simply saving or publishing the OER as something different. Admittedly, transcribing narrations can take time, but is important nethertheless.

CC BY SA Dr Viv Rolfe

Of course one of the amazing conference highlights to me will be the start of my international saxophone career which will take place on the Abitibi Boat Dinner Cruise on Wednesday 17th October. I look forward to joining the conference band of illustrious fellow musicians, and I’m sure there will be more blogs and photographs to follow, which we will of course share as open education resources.