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.


Open education news from Las Vegas conference

Open education conference news

Students making their own textbooks with open content!
(Afnan-Manns, Mickelsen and Medrano, Paradise Valley Community College, US).

This talk on open education from Paradise Valley Community College ( was a nice example of students being involved in open educational activities and gaining many benefits. Library staff worked with students to provide them with digital literacy skills to search for open educational materials and content on the internet, and then worked with them to evaluate the quality and critically appraise the content. These skills themselves are critical today for our information-driven society and are important for all university leavers to grasp.

Open Education

How did they change their courses?

They replaced face-to-face lectures on international business with interactive sessions supplemented with lectures. Through this, students became curators of their digital information and compiled an open textbook to replace an existing recommended text. Why do this? It seems that with high fees, the prospects of students buying expensive course books is a barrier to them enrolling and taking courses in the US. Also in some subjects, the books cannot keep up with say medical advances, current affairs and global activities. This is where open education has the advantage of being continually shared and added and updated on the internet.

How were the teaching sessions structured? Students formed teams and each decided upon a book chapter, e.g. product life cycles, globalisation etc. They then searched for OER and retrieved a bundle of good quality materials. As their text book chapter contribution they reviewed the OER with a summary, wrote keywords and a headline. The chapter was correctly cited and referenced to attribute the OER. Students produced their work in Blackboard on a WIKI so could view each others work and provide comments.

The work was monitored by library team and module academic Dr Morano. As he commented, the wealth of material retrieved by the students was amazing, and found new items and information that he couldn’t have possibly read. Also, the module was brought alive by real-time events and news.

Open education practices – the downside?

As always, new advances take an investment of time, and open education practices are no exception. Time was required to up-skill the students in digital literacy, and time was needed to encourage them to write WIKIS and comment. Dr Morano to transfer from a diactic content delivery to more interactive teaching sessions, which were backed up by lectures. This resulted in changes to module assessment because learning outcomes were not static year on year and changed with the nature of the resources found. This would have implications for writing examination questions early in the year before content was delivered.

The upside!

Through being involved in open education and by becoming partners in learning, the business students learnt practical skills of managing information, and experienced team-working and working collaboratively in an on-line environment. Their test scores improved, although the longer term impact on enrollment or retention where “text book-free” courses are seen as a popular choice remains to be seen.


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?