OER and Sustainability

As with most of my posts this one is presented from the perspective of K12 education.   I am sure some of the comments, suggestions and issues would be applicable to post-secondary but I am speaking generally about the unique aspects of elementary and high school education.

At the present time I would not classify any support for the creation or utilization of OER provided by most school divisions [mine in particular] as institutional.  Examples can be found for particular attempts to provide gathered links to content for use by teachers [a referatory of sorts] but I have yet to find one example in my province where content is both created or found and shared for the purpose of reuse, repurposing or remixing.  One example of a fantastic collection of online resources found and organized according to provincial K12 curriculum outcomes is GSSD Grade Level Resources initiated by Michelle Morely and supported by the Good Spirit School Division here in Saskatchewan. Even though this collection might not be considered an OER the value in the resource is obvious. Other school divisions do have similar [on a smaller scale] examples of collections like this.  While this is positive it also speaks to the nature of how work like this is done….each school division does its own thing with little or no collective work being done in the province.  The work in many cases relies very much on the initiative of one or two key people so sustainability of the resource remains an issue.

As with many provincial or state curricula my province [Saskatchewan] puts their complete curriculum online in an environment that is available to everyone.  This repository includes all relevant curriculum documents as well as suggested or approved resources.  Housed within an environment [Blackboard] that is available to all teachers in the province this repository could also provide for the opportunity to build an online content creation community that further supports curriculum. It has great potential as a source of OER.

Saskatchewan does have a history of OER [or at least learning object] development. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the provincial ministry of education initiated the development of online content through something called Central iSchool and the WBLRD [web-based learning resource development].  Individual teachers and teacher groups were seconded from school divisions to create online content to support the delivery of online courses and professional development.  The content created was made available from a central online repository and was accessed by educational organizations from across the province, country and around the world. Because of changes within the ministry and changing government mandates [and funding] the development process ended and even the repository no longer exists.  The content can still be found housed with individual school divisions and online courses are still available using much of the content created but the central nature of the work is now gone. Sustainability, even at this level, is obviously an issue.

As with most initiatives within educational environments equal provision of top-down pressure [school, division, provincial] and ground-up [grassroots] interest is required for success.  In the case of OER development teachers must recognize the inherent value of the content and be able to participate in its creation at many different levels for OER initiatives to succeed.  This “interest” will have to be cultivated in an environment where school, division and provincial level support and encouragement are provided.  If participation in both the creation and utilization [access] of content is not relatively simple it will not be sustained.  Teaching is becoming an increasingly complex process.  The increased diversity in classrooms related to such things as inclusive education, increased numbers of EAL [english as an additional language] as a result of immigration as well as changes resulting from educational reform  have vastly increased the demand on teachers.  Any OER initiative would have clearly supporting teachers in meeting these new demands.

I think there is great potential in emerging and existing technologies to finally make OER [its creation and utilization] a fundamental part of what we do as teachers.  Even though it is not a complete answer [because of its rather proprietary nature] the introduction by Apple of iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U does speak to one required element….simplicity. It does not get much simpler than running an app like iBooks Author and making it available with an environment like iTunes U. There is something appealing to teachers about being able to access a repository like iTunes U and have what you need available in a digital form right now.  Whether this actually happens is yet to be seen but it does suggest a different future for both content creation and content distribution.

There is of course one very significant issue to be addressed. Student and teacher access to the tools required to participate in any ecosystem dedicated to OER [digital content] creation, distribution and use is absolutely required.  Without the learning appliance full participation is just not possible?  How departments of education, school divisions, schools and parents will make this possible remains to be seen?

Posted in 98827, mobile learning | 2 Comments

Catalyst for Change…Access Copyright and Education

In June of 2009 the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency proposed tariff changes to the Copyright Board of Canada that would dramatically increase fees paid by both K12 and post-secondary educational institutions.

I work for a K12 school division that still functions under the Access Copyright License. For the most part the proposed changes requested by Access Copyright [proposed tariff] have not impacted the use or expected use of this agreement.  To be perfectly honest…very few pay it any attention at all.  I think this is because [generally speaking] classroom teachers use the key resources that they are provided by the division [textbooks, workbooks, teacher guides, etc] and do not look to producing a great deal of additional support materials.  I am sure there is a lot of searching for and finding/using content from the internet and elsewhere [resource based learning] but I don’t see a lot of concern or inquiries about copyright. With an increased emphasis on the use of social media, student and teacher publishing of student created content, collaborative online work and connecting students to authentic audience I am sure this lack of or seeming lack of concern might change.  From the division perspective the June 2009 application for school tariff changes could mean a 3 fold increase [5.16 to 15.00 per student] in fees paid. I would imagine that when and if the tariff increase is approved this increased cost will be a significant issue.

I do see the cancellation of the Access Copyright agreement by the University of Manitoba as a positive move.  The Provost’s [Joanne Keselman] comments in a letter to the university community and repeated in the Manitoban that leaving the agreement provides an opportunity to modernize both the resources and services provided by the university demonstrates a move in the right direction.  Along with this new approach The Copyright Modernization Act Bill C11 and a renewed focus on fair dealing should serve to clarify copyright life for educational institutions.

I would also hope that this renewed focus on copyright [because of real or expected increases in copyright costs] would result in educational institutions taking a renewed and much deeper look at openness generally and the creation and use of OER specifically.  I have said it before but educational reform [from my K12 perspective] seems to demand this.  A move to inquiry learning, personalized learning, collaboration and student publishing to authentic audience requires a much more flexible content ecosystem than what is now provided by traditional publishing and licensing relationships.  Simple technology and online services now provide the means for K12 institutions in particular to harness the power of OER and openness.  A move to outcomes-based curricula provides additional support as outcomes don’t demand a specific path for achievement.  Creativity, innovation and collaboration should re-emerge as paths to student success and content creation should increase as a result.

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In Consideration of Accessibility?

In a previous post I described [actually the W3C described it] internationalization, localization and accessibility as it applies to Internet content.  Design, licensing and redistribution considerations are important in the creation of OER to maximize the audience and to minimize issues related to reuse.  Accessibility, however, does bring in another layer of complexity. A significant question is what if any laws exist in Canada that govern accessibility and Internet publishing and in general OER distribution.

The short answer is no.  According to CIPPIC:

“Currently, there are no laws in Canada that explicitly require websites to comply with any set of standards that would make them accessible. Further, there are no license requirements for Websites, Online Service Providers (OSP) or even Internet Service Providers (ISP). However, some statutes impose obligations on the Federal government, federally regulated bodies and provincially regulated bodies, to make their respective websites accessible to people with disabilities.”

The latter part of the statement refers to the Federal Government “Common Look and Feel for the Internet 2.0” legislation [now enhanced with the Standard on Web Accessibility and new Standard on Web Usability.  The legislation, however,  does not extend to other organizations or individuals.  Some provincial legislation does exist but these are also generally directed at government organizations and services.

In the end what individuals or specific organizations can turn to for support with accessibility issues is the Canadians Human Rights Act.  But even here the act is limited in scope and again according to CIPPIC :

“The Act covers departments and agents of the federal government as well as crown corporations. The Act also covers federally regulated organizations, including chartered banks, airlines, television and radio broadcast stations, interprovincial communications and telephone companies, first nations and other federally industries like mining. Thus, the Act can only be applied to the websites of organizations that come within the categories above.”

The basic interpretation then applies…if a service or product is provided for sale then the laws have to be followed.  The question is whether or not what you produce [a website for example] falls within this category.  An informational site intended to be used as a resource by teachers may not.  This may absolve you of any responsibility to make your site accessible from a legal standpoint but what moral obligation do we have.

In general terms then individuals and organizations like schools or school divisions in Canada are left to themselves to decide to incorporate accessibility in design and distribution.  It can make good business and operational sense to consider accessibility but it is not required.  From a philosophical point of view educational institutions would seem to have a greater burden to make content accessible but in practice this is not as easy as it seems.  As Jonathan Bauer states in his posting [Continuous Learning] on the same topic and with respect to the tools suggested [from the US Section 508 website] that can be used to improve accessibility:

“My reaction after spending time reviewing some of the tools available to promote accessibility via Section 508 (see: tools and resources). My initial skim through some of these tools reveals that they will require a higher technical ability from the user.”

Organizations and individuals are left then to either pay a third-party that has the technical expertise and know-how to create your internet presence or to develop the expertise required.  I know from first hand experience that this does not often happen in K12 school divisions.  Even if they purchase service from a third party.

So left to our individual or collective responsibility who do we turn to?  Once again the W3C comes up big.  Make a decision as to what degree you will make the content accessible [let your conscience be your guide] and follow the guidelines set out by the W3C as much as possible.

Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

Posted in 98827, OER | Tagged | 2 Comments

Copyright Complexity! Or should it be complication?

In consideration of copyright, creativity and control the question is:

“Is the preponderance of different types of licenses making it easier to reuse resources, or is it adding another layer of complexity which in effect works to place a barrier on using oer? In other words, are all these divergent licenses actually restricting the ways in which resources can be reused? Would it be simpler if we just had copyrighted work, which had to be cleared and public domain work which was free to use.”

Working from a known and relatively simplistic environment where you either draw from copyrighted content or from public domain content certainly seems less complicated.   Either you can use it freely or you have to ask for permission and live by standard copyright rules.  Lawrence Lessig would say however [something clearly stated in his “refrain”] that simply relying on current copyright law [and its expanding limits on free use] creates a less and less free society.  If this is true and encouraging creativity is the goal then alternatives for how people license creative works need to be available.

Having spent considerable time in the consideration of copyright and the options presented it does indeed present a complicated face.  Even though the intent was to provide alternatives and to make content more available [particularly for reuse, remixing, redistribution], licensing options like Creative Commons and GNU/GPL do add layers to navigate. On the other hand, as stated in the Tragedy of the Commons “No system that deals with human creativity can keep everybody happy.”

In consideration of the significant change to copyright [and the subsequent loss of openness] and the extension of rights to life plus 70 years [sounds like a sentence for a crime] some response is required. Despite the increased complexity, Creative Commons and GNU/GPL [and others] do provide that response.  If we want to use the creative works of others [and protect our own] then the cost of doing business is understanding how that person wants it used. It also means that the burden of understanding those limits assigned by specific copyright lies with us. The more people understand the nature of copyright the more likely they might be to assign copyright that encourages creativity rather than hinder it.

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Integrating OER in Teaching and Learning

The OER Handbook for Educators provides 8 steps for OER integration:

  1. Assess the validity and reliability of the OER.
  2. Determine placement within the curriculum, if not already done. Note that some OER integration may be abandoned at this point if the OER relates poorly to the rest of the curriculum.
  3. Check for license compatibility.
  4. Eliminate extraneous content within the OER (assuming the license permits.
  5. Identify areas of localization..
  6. Remix with other educational materials, if applicable.
  7. Determine the logistics of using the OER within the lesson. For example, you may need to print handouts for learners. In other cases special software may be needed.
  8. Devise a method of evaluation or whether the currently planned evaluation needs adjustment.

The fundamental difference between OER and traditional teaching/learning materials is that OER allow for the students to be part of the creation of new and the improvement of existing materials.  While it is true that traditional materials can be extended with the creation of additional materials they generally do not provide for the student to be part of the original creation and distribution process.  In a knowledge economy where demand for creativity and innovation is high it seems paramount that students as much as possible be part of the content creation cycle.

In K12 education the link between outcomes based curricula, inquiry and therefore the integration/incorporation/creation of OER is then obvious.  It is a natural part of the requirement for students to be active learners, collaborative learners, social learners, problem solvers and publishers of content. In particular active learning approaches like project, problem, issues [related to problem-based learning] and challenge-based learning expect that students will create products or connect with community.  And because of the nature of inquiry and the openness of the questions that can be explored and answered by students [still linked to curriculum of course] it is likely that materials will need to be created or customized on the part of the teacher in order to appropriately support the process.  The 8 steps then speak very well to the planning and work that is required on the part of the teacher [and by the active learner]  in the selection, customization and distribution [making OER available] of learning materials.

In the not too distant past the process of finding, creating, remixing, revising and publishing or distributing content was a much more difficult task than it is today.  While to some the process may remain difficult we are lucky to be operating in a time when both the tools for creation and the means to publish are readily at hand and relatively simple to use.  With the advent of creation and publishing services like Google Apps,  iTunes and iTunesU and iBooks Author the creative cycle is becoming even simpler.  On the learning side this should allow educators to focus more on the skills required for students to find, authenticate and utilize resources more effectively.

I would add to this integration list one important step. Step 9 should to be to design appropriate methods of distribution, sharing and collaborative creation of OER…from both the student and teacher perspective. Only then will teachers and students develop a firm understanding of the intent of OER.

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Making it Right!

Internationalization/Localization/Accessibility [ILA]

A quick Google search reveals many sites that can provide a definition and detailed description of both localization and internationalization. For a number of reasons I very quickly centered on the World Wide Web Consortium site as a good general source [here is their definition and description]. Much of the discussion of OER happens around distribution, creation and openness generally. When we think of distribution we tend to default to thinking about the web as the primary method of getting content out there. It makes sense then to turn to the one organization [the W3C] that is all about standardization of content and process on the web. Discussions also turn to openness and the W3C is well invested in making content available to as many people as possible. The W3C International Activity speaks directly to this:

“The W3C Internationalization (I18n) Activity works with W3C working groups and liaises with other organizations to make it possible to use Web technologies with different languages, scripts, and cultures. From this page you can find articles and other resources about Web internationalization, and information about the groups that make up the Activity.”

In the end there are really three considerations when creating open educational content:

  • Internationalization [making content as ready as possible to localize]
  • localization [adapting content for a specific target audience]
  • accessibility [enable those with disabilities to access content]

With respect to its very nature the creation, remixing and reuse of OER should adhere as much as possible to development guidelines that promote internationalization, localization and accessibility. The W3C site provides information, resources and links that will support the creation of such content.

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Future Learning and OER

Imagine the day when students, because of the very nature of how they were taught, expect to and actually do verify the information they find online, work to produce content that adds to the body of knowledge in a given area and actively collaborate to provide others with better and better resources.  Despite all the discussion around changing the direction of public education this constructivist/constructionist/connectivist notion still remains difficult to see in consistent practice.

So….given the current educational environment where does OER fit?  I thought the best route to answer this overarching question would be to answer some simpler ones posed as part of week 5 discussions in my University of Manitoba Open Educational Resources course.

First…should some OERs be “official” and others “unofficial”?
I don’t think it matters.  The most important thing for students is to have the skills and tools to find, verify and then appropriately use the resources they locate.  It does not matter if they are “official” or not.  In fact…the idea that a resource or piece of information is “official” I believe tends to lull people [students] into a state of complacency.  Everything should be looked at with the appropriate degree of criticism and be improved by the application of that criticism.

Are OERs just a cute kitten?
Some probably are. What’s wrong with a cute kitten?  How many people have become interested in cats because they fell in love with the kitten?  How much have people all around the world learned from raising that cute kitten?  Doesn’t the kitten grow up to be a well trained cat  [Is there such a thing as a well trained cat?] or at least a mature one?  In the end OERs exist within a quality spectrum.  Bad to good, immature to mature, supported to outdated, etc. The trick here is to nurture the kitten.

Is Google better than any OER search tool could ever hope to be?
I think so.  Unlike an OER search tool Google doesn’t start out attempting to narrow what you might find.  Once again it comes down to students having the search skills necessary to make the tool as useful and productive as possible.  I could not put a number on the resources, information, people and tools I have found online as a result of either well planned or sometimes very wide searches.  While specific OER search tools obviously have their place they can not hope to match the level of discovery available to powerful Googlers.

Will OERs ever catch on in the developing world?
I can’t see why not. Continually improved access to broadband and mobile connectivity should support the increased use and distribution of OER. The development of appropriate partnerships like those sponsored by the Open University of the UK will also expand the reach of OER and openness generally.  Even where the level of Internet access is limited the reduction in cost associated with the mass production of more traditional OER materials can improve educational access.

Instead of OERs what will we be talking about in five years?
We will still be talking about OERs in five years.  What I think we will be talking about more is the increasing ease of quality creation and the increased ease of distribution. Publishers are already under pressure because of this and that pressure will continue. Apple’s recent release of iBooks Author is a great example of this trend.  Even though the tool requires that content be distributed within the Apple ecosystem the ease of use and quality level achievable is astounding.

Will OERs for large chunks of content ever catch on?
Of course!  Educational institutions buy significant resources from traditional publishers or create significant resources because they can afford to do so.  This is true either because they can pass this cost on to students who are still able or willing to pay or because the cost for such resources is subsidized by some other means.  The rising cost of student debt and the general cost of education is surely putting some pressure on educational institutions to lower costs.  One way to do this is to move away from the high cost of traditional resources.  OERs will surely become more prominent and as they do and the quality and availability increases that role will grow.  The adoption of resources like Google Apps for Education within K12 [it is free for K12] school divisions is a great example of this.  When it works free is good.

The goal?
Education in its fundamental form should be one giant Open Educational [Resource] endeavour. When the pedagogy and environments are in place [I am speaking from the K12 perspective again] there is no need for many of the high cost resources we tend to buy. Tapping into and supporting the OER movement should be the de facto standard for teachers and school divisions generally.  Powerful learning and OER are a perfect fit.

Posted in 98827, Trends | Tagged , , | 11 Comments