Last week I went to the OpenLearn 2007 conference hosted at the Open University. A lot was packed into the couple of days, and there was representation from different OER (Open Educational Resources) groups from around the world. There were an abundance of new projects, papers, groups and initiatives mentioned, and a recurring sentiment was that it is difficult to keep track of all the things that are happening!
In terms of coverage: on-the-fly notes from conference bloggers are available from OCHRE and other blog posts should appear at the OpenLearn blog aggregator. I think the OU also intend to release video/audio footage of the conference.
Below are some musings from the event…
Towards an ‘open participatory learning ecosystem’
John Seeley Brown‘s talk started the conference with the idea that ‘we participate therefore we are’, with respect to learning. His He emphasised the advantages of a collaborative, participatory approach to education. The architecture studio – where all of the models are on view and everyone is able to listen to appraisals of everyone else’s work – was used to convey the paradigm of collaborative, ‘open’ development, and, indirectly, the value of ‘releasing early and releasing often’.
He said that ‘tinkering’ is an important form of learning – and suggested we are experiencing a new wave of tinkering as a result of open software and content. He also described a vision of a world where learners are also educators in an ‘open participatory learning ecosystem’. Central to this vision is the notion of a culture of sharing, remixing, blending, and modifying which is enabled by open licensing practices. In his view, the combination of eScience, eHumanities, OERs and web 2.0 is creating a ‘perfect storm of opportunity’ for such an ecosystem to flourish.
Two examples he gave of were the Faulkes Telescope Project, which gives students remote access to astronomical apparatus to perform experiments and pool/analyze their data, and Decameron web, a user generated portal for resources dedicated exploring Boccacio’s work. I was reminded of what the OKF set out to do with Open Economics and Open Shakespeare – i.e. to create open knowledge ‘exemplar’ projects with open material and open ‘tools’ to allow users to explore and analyse the material. Also I’m sure open datasets such as those listed on CKAN could be the basis for interesting ‘social learning/research’ projects, by being integrated with visualisation tools (we’ve blogged about this before).
There was also discussion of new user-focused and user-led ways of collecting data for education and research. Patrick McAndrew told me about the Biodiversity Observatory, a joint project of the OU, Imperial, the Natural History Museum and 12 other projects to allow the public to contribute data about British wildlife. I wonder what kind of license they plan to make user-contributed data available under! Vijay Kumar spoke about iLabs – an architecture developed by MIT to allow students to gain remote access to laboratories.
Conceptions of ‘Openness’ and licensing practices
It was clear listening to the different talks that there were various different conceptions about what the ‘open’ in OER meant. There was certainly a strong sense that it is fundamentally related to liberal/open licensing practices (as opposed to just cost-free access) but it often seemed to have wider connotations than this. Erik Duval said that to him openness meant ‘removing barriers’ – including legal barriers, poor findability, and inconvenience to the user. Removing socio-economic obstacles to access, allowing access to source files, and creating a culture of inclusion and participation were recurring themes. I would be interested to hear more about how more people involved in OER felt about the Open Knowledge Definition!
Regarding licensing practices, speakers rarely made distinctions between different types of Creative Commons licenses. The term ‘open content’ was often taken to include material available under a license with noncommercial restrictions. In conversations I had about licenses with noncommercial restrictions (notably with people from MIT and the OU) – I was given the impression that many organisations were not opposed to the commercial usage of educational resources in principle. Commonly cited reasons for adopting one included wanting to incorporate other material available under noncommercial sharealike licenses (especially that which had been donated by other commercial organisations), the reluctance of content contributors (publishers, authors, educators, researchers…) and other parties, and wanting to prevent people mirroring with ads.
It would be great if more OER projects started using licenses requiring only attribution, or attribution sharealike so as to impose minimal restrictions on re-use! The absence of noncommercial restrictions could allow people to experiment with new models for sustaining the development of educational materials.
Repositories, registries and metadata
Chris Pegler gave an interesting talk about the wide range of repositories that now exist – from informal personal repositiories to national, international and discipline-specific repositories. She also discussed the continuum of ‘user concerns’ and the different kinds of technologies available to aid different kinds of repository usage – from rights management and metadata standards to search facilities and RSS feeds. She used Jan HylÃ©n’s taxonomy from his 2006 paper on OER for the OECD to analyse a range of repositories and uses.
Erik Duval gave a talk about ‘open metadata for open educational resources’ – alluding to his experiences with:
- ARIADNE – “A European Association open to the World, for Knowledge Sharing and Reuse”
- GLOBE – a global alliance aiming to make educational material accessible worldwide
- MELT – which “has been designed to provide users of learning content in schools with access to more useful types of metadata that will allow them to find resources that fit their needs, language, cultures and preferred ways of teaching and learning”
- MACE – an EU project “aimed at improving architectural education, by integrating and connecting vast amounts of content from diverse repositories, including past European projects existing architectural design communities.”
He stressed the importance of open metadata and spoke of ARIADNE’s work on ‘attention metadata’ – or metadata generated automatically from users’ clickstreams, and Kuleuven’s work on automatic metadata generation.
Finally Giovanni Fulantelli spoke about ‘OpenLOs’ (open learning objects), and the EU SLOOP (‘Sharing Learning Objects in an Open Perspective’) project. He described the importance of treating metadata as dynamic and changing information that is essential in supporting the evolution of learning resources.
Its good to see the work being done on metadata for OER (though it looks like some of the data that’s being made available has NC restrictions – and is hence not ‘open’ as in the OKD). It’d be fantastic to have more discussions with members of the OER community about how CKAN should be able to handle metadata!
Update, 2007-11-14: As ibbo commented below, there were many interesting discussions of Learning Object Metadata (LOM) and of LOM standards, such as the 2002 standard, IEEE 1484.12.1. We’re certainly keen to keep track of developments in this area!
Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.