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.