Look out Milton Keynes, here I come! – My OLNet Fellowship on tracking OER Reuse


I’m still not 100% clear on whether I can tell anybody about this, but… too late now. Earlier this year I took a bit of a flyer and submitted an application for an OLNet Fellowship, which offered the chance to work with the folks at the renowned Open University in the UK on issues around Open Education. I am not a full-time Academic and don’t have an enormous publication record, but I’d like to think I’ve paid some dues in the trenches working on, and thinking and writing about, Open Education. Apparently so did they, because much to my pleasant surprise I was awarded an “Expert Fellowship,” a category seemingly designed to suit odd-balls like myself that work in the lofty heights of Academia but ain’t got no papers ūüėČ

But there’s a point to this post apart from saying “wohoo Scott” (wohoo!) Actually 2 points. The first is a shout out to colleagues in the UK that I will be in Milton Keynes from June 23 until July 24th. I am not clear yet the extent of my mobility will be, but I’m certainly hoping that the month offers some opportunities to visit and learn with colleagues in the UK. If you are interested, please do let me know and we’ll try to make it happen.

The second point of the post is to share a bit of what I am going to be working on. As many of you know, I run an “open educational resource” repository (cue loud groan.) In our model, and it seems far from unique, teaching resources aimed primarily at instructors are typically downloaded and reused in some other context. While it is possible to ‘point’ to content hosted in our system, in most cases this is not how it is used.

One of the problems with this model (and sheesh, don’t I wish there were only one) is that the content owners don’t get a good sense of the popularity of their resources and where else they are being used. As a blogger and long time creator of web content that has been reused, I know that getting feedback on how often your stuff is viewed and from where, whether it be in the form of Trackbacks, or services like Google Analytics, can be a big shot in the arm. Sure, it is hopefully not the only thing that motivates you, but it doesn’t hurt.

So my proposal is to research the myriad different ways this kind of usage tracking can be implemented specifically in the context of OER (with a high sensitivity to finding approaches conducive to freedom and not any sense of ‘restriction’), select one and implement it in my real world repository. It is a big fish to fry and I do not think the problem is exclusive to OERs but in general applies to digital media. While I do hope to report on general approaches I also know that having a specific context to work in will be helpful. So expect to hear more (and get more pleas of “help!”) in the coming months.

Anyways, hope I do end up getting to meet some of you conspirators who ’til now have been just URLs or avatars. And I hear the English countryside is lovely that time of year… – SWL

Another 1/4-baked idea – OER “virtual reference librarian”

This is another totally off-the-cuff not-well-thought-through idea (one wonders if I have any other kind!) but I do trust that smart folks out there will promptly tell me if it’s a terrible one, which is why I’m tossing it out here before I actually spend any more effort on it.

I want to put to the side ideological and theoretical debates around OER for a second because I am driven by a specific problem – it’s *my job* to help instructors and institutions in BC share online learning resources and in general to promote awareness of OER and their reuse. So I am always thinking of ways I might help people find useful resources.

Now I often make the mistake of thinking everyone is exactly like me, and so much of my effort has been in helping people help themselves. This often takes the form of technological interventions like teaching instructors how to grow their own PLN’s, or my work around client-side augmentation.

But a couple of things have given me pause to reconsider whether there are other ‘hands-on,’ ‘high touch’ approaches I should also be considering. One is the (disappointingly stillborn) Findanoerafrica twitter account that Dave Cormier setup at the Open Ed ’09 conference. The other was the experience last night of watching a friend wonder out loud on twitter about good resources on gardening for K-4 students, and within minutes seeing a fantastic reply from another friend and OER curator-type which seemed to exactly fit the bill.

So there could be no better example of informal learning networks “just sharing” than this, and I know enough about this network stuff to know that institutionalizing it can be the kiss of death, but both of these did make me wonder if there maybe isn’t some role for an “Ask the OER Virtual Librarian” service to help faculty new to the idea of finding and reusing open resources get off to a start. Maybe a twitter account or email address that would be easy to monitor as part of one’s normal workflow but that would allow a higher touch response. I suppose this is often the role for instructional designers, but in my experience not every faculty developing a course gets the chance to work with instructional designers (and certainly students don’t, and I wonder the extent to which *real* librarians avail themselves of OER versus more traditional sources.) So…

Is this a dumb idea? Would this be tantamount to admitting that OERs (as any sort of distinct thing) are a failure? (Certainly it would seem like acknowledging the current way of developing and sharing them might be.) Is “discoverability” even actually the problem with resources getting reused, or is it possible that the whole model is so flawed, so disconnected from how educators construct course materials, that it wouldn’t make any difference (and to be fair, it is important to distinguish OER aimed at educator reuse and OER aimed at student self-study). Please let me know. I like this idea simply because when I see this happen in my networks it brings me joy to observe, but it may be trying to squash the round peg of institutional roles into the square hole of personal networks. Wouldn’t be the first time… – SWL

New Round of BC’s Online Program Development Fund


So while this may be of interest mostly to local readers, I thought I’d post on it because I think there’s a few things we are doing in this round that may be of wider interest.

This is the 5th round of BC’s Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), a province-wide fund that BCcampus (my employers) administer on behalf of the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education.

This year’s¬†$750K call¬†is notable, I think, first off for it’s inclusion of “Co-created Content” as one of the funding categories. This is an effort to acknowledge this phenomenom and support the co-creation of learning resources by students and faculty under a license that seeks to offer these¬†for successive groups of students to build on.

The second thing possibly of more general interest is a new inclusion which asks the proponents to describe their strategy for seeking out existing freely reusable learning resources that¬†could be leveraged in their project. This is an effort to promote one of the values underlying the fund, that good, free¬†content should be reused where appropriate. The call does not dictate that existing content must be reused, but instead simply asks proponents what efforts they have made in this direction. It also does not stipulate where this content might come from – sure, we’d love people to look in SOL*R for suitable reusable content, but we hope they’ll bring in pieces from the thousands of other places you can find free learninng resources online.

Finally, another small innovation in the call is around how to promote interoperability practices. Like it or not, the majority of the content that’s been produced through past funds has been done in one of the course management systems supported in our province (WebCT 4, 6 and Vista, Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Moodle and a few home-grown ones are the current crop). While it is seductive to think one could simply specify a “standard” for content, this is for me problematic because a) it would be a top down approach that¬†would likely not reflect the actual practices in the¬†province and¬†b) almost certainly wouldn’t simply “just work”¬†anyways because of the uneven support across the CMS for even basic specs like Content Packaging. Instead, this call is an attempt to get people to at least factor the issue into their planning and describe how they plan to¬†address it. From my perspective there is not ONE way to get content to work across these systems, nor does it have to even be in any of these systems at all. What it does need to be is as useful as possible to other faculty in the province (and ideally out of it too, but the funds’ mandate is specifically to foster content development in the province) regardless of the choices they make on their own, and the call simply asks people to describe their strategy to achieve this.

Blogging about “official” work stuff always makes me uncomfortable – not only have I been known to cock up before, it’s not an “official” part of my job. As is always the case, the words here represent my personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. If you want to know more about the OPDF, then read the call directly, don’t just take my word on it! – SWL