Open Technology to Support Biology Courses and Resources

Phil Tubman is a learning technologist at Lancaster University and is working on the present Biology Courses project, and he has just delivered a presentation to “Psychology in Education” students on open education.

Biology courses talk

To see Phil’s presentation, go to:

Phil has talked about open education from the technological perspective, which is actually very important. An awful lot of material released to share on the internet is just in one format, and this not just restricts the “openness” and flexibility of the resource, but it is restrictive in terms of accessibility and availability to learners with different approaches and study requirements.

In this presentation he talks about the emergence of open working which was led by the “open source” community and facilitated by open licences. In parallel, open education is growing around a dedicated community of participants and is facilitated by the open content licence Creative Commons.

The talk points out to be truly open, resources need to be produced using open source technology and software. As a second step, it needs to be produced in multiple formats to greaten the chance of the resources being adapted and reused. In biology courses, we use these approaches, and further try and enhance the open availability of resources using search engine optimisation to make our biology OERs discovered on the internet.

We are very lucky to have Phil Tubman as part of our technology team working on this project. We will report on technology developments and innovations as our biology courses website develops.


Open Education File Format Tips and Tricks

When you are making an open education resource, it’s not just about the content of the resource, although content is very important. You need to think about the different users around the world, and the different devices they may be using.

I read recently that over 75% of Afghanistan has 3G mobile coverage, (the numbers are equally astounding for most of Africa), so if we’re making open education biology courses for example that we’re hoping to reach the 3rd world, we can’t just be thinking swfs, or even pdf depending on the creative commons licence attached to it. We need to be thinking mobile formats, small screens, dial up internet speed, offline viewing, open source software….

open education

We need to think about opening out our open education, so that a range of people can access and enjoy it. If we have made a great swf animation, you can export it as avi and post on youtube, albeit without interactivity Or why not let people download the source fla files in a zip…. And if you do post on youtube, this may be fine for people with great internet connections, but what about the situation away from internet, where distance learning still requires a postman – we need to make these videos available for download too.

Let me tell you about pdfs though, as it makes another point about open education… We write a great open education resource for our biology courses that we wish to share with the world, so we put a creative commons licence on, save as pdf (easier for printing), and post on the internet. Simples, no? But how can anybody remix your content, without the need for proprietary software (Adobe Reader Professional). You need to post the content as txt as well, and open office format so anybody, can open it, even if it means spoiling the format. You may wish to post it on Google Docs as well, and on your facebook group…

There are levels of open education when it comes to file formats.

  • OER that only requires open source software to open and edit e.g. Uncompiled source code, .html, .txt files (most open format)
  • OER that does not reveal source code but can be opened but not edited in a free package (e.g. .swf, .pdf,)
  • OER that requires proprietary software to open but source code is then revealed (e.g. .fla files require flash but then it opens the source code to be remixed)
  • OER that requires proprietary software to open and source code is susequently not revealed (e.g. some screencast recordings)

These are useful to know when you are attributing your open education as you may have CC No Derivs, in which case you need to think about whether you reveal source code or not, but to be truly open, it must be able to be viewed in an open source environment, which is another consideration.

I find that the scattergun approach is the best way to work, and share the resources in a number of ways simultaneously. That we we can ensure our open education reaches exactly who we want it to in a format they can understand. We want open education to be free, and readable for everyone.

Written by:

Phil Tubman BA MSc Cert Ed AHEA
Certified Member of Association for Learning Technology
Lancaster University

Open Education and Using Resources

Open education is growing in the UK

Increasing numbers of academic institutions are becoming involved in open education. In the UK, many universities and colleges are participating in the national “Open Educational Resources” programme. Large numbers of useful learning materials are being shared on websites, but often it isn’t clear how a resource can or cannot be used.

Open education pumpkin field

Christchurch: Pumpkin Field. © Nigel Cox. Creative Commons BY SA.

Open licenses for open education

I really like this Geograph website which is a project to photograph and capture every aspect of Britain. The photographs are beautiful, and the contributors have licensed them using Creative Commons. This means the copyright ownership remains with the individual but the license allows other to use the picture.

What is nice about the website it makes it really clear how to use the picture, whether for reasons of open education or just general interest? Under each photograph is a link called “reuse” which takes you to a page explaining exactly what to do.

It informs me that the work is the copyright of Nigel Cox and is licensed for reuse under Creative Commons BY SA. “BY” means I must attribute the owner, and “SA” means share alike – I can alter or transform the work as long as I share it. So I can incorporate the photograph into this blog article and also crop it for the banner, thus enhancing my open education website. If the licence was a “ND” no derivatives variant, I would not be permitted to alter it at all.

The terms of the license do not require me to provide a weblink but I think that is helpful.

Well, that has been a little lesson on how to use any asset / resource / learning material provided by an open education project. Look for the Creative Commons license and follow the requirements.