New Institute of Learning Innovation papers at ALT-C 2013

The Institute of Learning Innovation will be well-represented at ALT-C 2013 conference: Building new cultures for learning.

Brenda Padilla’s full paper was accepted, with the title ‘Student engagement with a content-based learning design.’ Brenda summarises her paper: ‘While learning is commonly conceptualised as a social, collaborative process, in corporate organisations, online courses often provide limited opportunities for communication between people. How do students engage with content-based courses? How do they find answers to their questions? How do they achieve the learning outcomes? This paper aims to answer these questions by focusing on students’ experiences in an online content-based course delivered in a large Mexican organisation.’

A short paper by Terese Bird was accepted with the title ‘China is harvesting your
iTunes U – and other findings from researching how overseas students engage
with open learning materials.’ This paper will share findings from the HEA-funded iTunesUReach project in which the use of open educational resources (OER) by overseas students was researched. This project was represented at OER13 with the poster below.

A short paper by Ming Nie was accepted with the title ‘iPads in distance learning:
learning design, digital literacy, transformation.’ This paper will share findings from the JISC-funded Places project which is evaluating the use of iPads in two University of Leicester distance learning Masters courses.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester


New global open educational trends – policy, learning design, and mobile


Beyond Distance PhD students and colleagues from around the world

To celebrate Open Education Week (begins 11 March 2013), Beyond Distance colleagues will be doing an online webinar to which you are cordially invited! We hope to have discussion, debate, and controversy! So please save the date and time —- more information and a link to connect will be blogged closer to the time.

Webinar title: ‘New global open educational trends: policy, learning design, and mobile’

Date and time: 11 March (Monday) at 12:30 -14:00 GMT

Presenters: Professor Grainne Conole, Gabi Withaus, Dr. Ming Nie, Terese Bird, Bernard Nkuyubwatsi

The webinar will be in format of a roundtable discussion. Informed by our work on various open educational projects of international scope (POERUPSPEED, TOUCANS, SPIDER, and iTunesUReach, among others) our team will share their perspectives and invite discussion on intercontinental policies for OER uptake, developments in the use of open resources and open practice in learning design, and issues around open practice in mobile learning, with a special focus on the view from the developing world.

Hope to virtually see you there!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow

Steve Jobs: Star of Informal Learning

The sad news today of the passing of Steve Jobs brings a deserved flurry of tributes and perspectives on his work. This morning, close to one-fifth of all Twitter comments had to do with Steve Jobs. American president Obama described Jobs as being “among the greatest of American innovators.” Besides the immense consumer appeal of the  iPad, iPod, and iPhone, there is the multi-faceted impact of Mac computers, and Jobs’ reinvention of film animation at Pixar. I would like to relate a personal story of how Jobs’ innovation both affected an industry and reveals the power of informal learning.

Steve Jobs in an early Stanford computer lab of Macs. Courtesy of The Seb on Flickr

When I studied computer programming in the 1980s, I worked on an IBM 360/370 with terminals. After graduation, I took a job with a printing company in Chicago and tried my hand at typesetting. My father was a printer; he used to set type the ancient way, with little pieces of metal held together in a mold. At my company, we used a new-fangled method called phototypesetting, a combination of computer tech and photography. I typed commands (which were strangely similar to html) at a terminal, pressed a few buttons, and out came the imprinted photographic paper dripping with fixing fluid, ready to be hung up to dry.

My husband was also from a family of printers. Once on a visit to their company, my mother-in-law showed me this little computer called a Macintosh. She demonstrated how she could set type in a wysiwyg environment, using both a keyboard and a mouse (which I could not get my head around). When I saw how simply I could select fonts and sizes and see the piece laid out on the screen, I had a feeling that everything was about to change. Indeed, the desktop publishing revolution was right around the corner, and everything did change.

The Mac was the first computer to pay any attention to typefaces. If you watch Jobs unveil the Mac in 1984 (worth a watch for many reasons), you can see how important he felt it was to get typefaces right. Jobs learned about typefaces in a college calligraphy class, which he attended after he dropped out of college. Without a degree yet with academic instinct, Jobs applied what he learnt and made it integral to the Macintosh. He famously insisted on quality design and beauty at every hidden level of all of Apple’s innovations.

First Macintosh showing off typefaces - from the demo video on YouTube

My current SCORE project about iTunes U as a channel of free learning resources ( has let me appreciate this public platform given to universities and educational institutions. It’s not all philanthropy; of course iTunes U shows off how nice multimedia looks on the various i-gadgets. And yet, my research into how iTunes U materials are used by ordinary folks has revealed their importance as informal learning resources. It’s almost as if Steve Jobs brought his academic experience full-circle, allowing lots of people to ‘audit classes’ even if they are dropouts or never accessed higher education.

Thanks, Steve, for a lifetime of innovation and inspiration.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

OER 11: naturally occurring is best

Last week I had the privilege of attending OER 2011, a conference dedicated to the study, development, and promotion of open educational resources. It was hosted by SCORE, through which I am studying iTunes U as an OER channel, which is the topic of my SPIDER study. In fact, I got the chance to do my presentation twice – “Is iTunes U a successful model of Open Educational Resource distribution?”

It was great to learn from those who have been working through the issues of open educational resource production, promotion and evaluation for years – for example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Open University. It was exciting to learn about unusual endeavours such as The Cosmonaut, a Creative Commons film produced through collaboration and ‘crowdfunding’ –anyone can donate a minimum of 2 euro to help, and all donors’ names will be listed as producers, with over 3000 producers and counting.

The take-home message for me, however, was the simple one that innovations of any kind are best implemented ‘naturally.’ For example, I have been looking at the iTunes U implementation of University of Oxford. Most of the offerings are podcasts of live lectures — audio recordings of events naturally occurring in Oxford’s academic life. They appeal because they display what is really going on at Oxford, and are produced at a reasonably low cost due to the naturally occurring factor.

Another successful model of naturally-occurring OER sharing is Humbox, a site where those who teach humanities can publish and share their teaching resources. A prolific Humbox contributor, Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, commented that Humbox made sense to him because his academic contract does not include research. And yet, he is an academic and so he must publish – but where? Humbox was the answer. It became natural for him to post his materials there as he created them, and others value and make use of them.

Here at Beyond Distance, our flagship OER project OTTER allowed us to establish an OER repository. Now what is needed is ongoing contribution of OER, which can happen best when instructors begin to naturally prepare their materials with open principles in mind – using Creative Commons images, and making sure about permissions from the beginning. We hope, through our current OER projects OSTRICH, TIGER, and SPIDER, to encourage good practice in OER creation, and for such good practice to become a natural part of what academics do.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

Open Educational Resources from the Viewpoint of the Institution

On Friday 11 March 2011, Gabi Witthaus and I attended a SCORE event entitled ‘Institutional strategies for Open Educational Resources (OER) in the Open University Nottingham campus. (Gabi wrote about this event on the OSTRICH project blog with a slightly different focus.) Several featured speakers described their experiences implementing the production and use of OER in their institutions, including how they made the case to stakeholders. Among my take-home messages from each speaker:

University of Exeter – Tom Browne: When making the argument for OER, it is important to include the evidence of demand for OER. Open access academic work must be tied to institutional mission. Production of OER should be seen as scholarly activity within staff development. Exeter has now launched Open STEM, and while this initiative was specifically for STEM subjects, it sparked enthusiasm in humanities subjects as well.

Nottingham Tram (photo courtesy of Andwar on Flickr)

Oxford University – Melissa Highton:  The most successful OER production is built on existing workflow – Oxford academics were lecturing anyway, so a decision was made to just audio-record as they do it and make it simple enough that lecturers can do much of the process themselves. This is how Oxford launched and runs their iTunes U channel.  Although Oxford offers both audio and video lectures, their data shows that audio-only lectures get downloaded three times as often as video versions. To those who may still ask “why capture a lecture?” Melissa argued that a lecture is a unique academic event – this person will only be speaking about this topic or research in this way and with this audience today and not again, so capture it and allow any Oxford student to hear it, in fact, allow anyone to hear it. Melissa described a new skill for academics to become fluent in open content provision : open content literacy (releasing open learning material in an ethical fashion). Finally, she presented evidence of reuse: schools using Oxford lectures in their own teaching and finding it unnecessary to chop or rehash the lectures.

University of Nottingham – Steve Stapleton:  Their university saw the social responsibility of publishing OER, showcased in their work with OERAfrica. Steve’s presentation emphasised improving student experience by focus on open content – academics became more conscious of quality because they knew the material would be open. The University of Nottingham will now feature information about their open content in the university prospectus and observe any effect on their marketing. Steve concluded by mentioning Nottingham’s new ideas: U-Now and a university Flickr account.

There were also excellent presentations on work by University of Cape Town to create and provide OER–even allowing lecturers to upload their own material to the repository, similar to a ‘pride of ownership model’ at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Delft University of Technology reported a definite increase in the number and quality of international PhD students after publishing courses as open, as well as faculty satisfaction with their improved reputation as a result of OER publications.  It was these academic benefits of OER which I believe should be particularly persuasive for institutions considering OER publication. I will be looking at these benefits and related impact specifically as I examine iTunes U in the SPIDER project.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist, SCORE Fellow, and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

Is OER repurposing overrated?

In the UK there has already been a wave of funding to encourage the launch of repositories of open educational resources (OER). Our own OTTER project was funded during that initial wave. Now, attention has turned to ‘cascading,’ sharing practice, and evaluating impact of OER. Our current OSTRICH and TIGER projects are working in these areas. For the project I am working on, SPIDER (Sharing Practice with iTunes U Digital Educational Resources),  I am gathering evidence of individual use of iTunes U-distributed material.  So far, I have discovered quite a bit of such evidence. I find occasional evidence of someone using this material in teaching, and so far no evidence of anyone adapting or repurposing. From a technological viewpoint, iTunes U material does not lend itself easily at all to repurposing, and some universities do not even release iTunes U material under Creative Commons license anyway.

But even amongst true OER repositories, where much effort may have been put into making files editable and easy-to-repurpose, it is not clear that these qualities are being exploited. In my own recent discussions with educators interested in and working with OER, this point has come up again and again.

Photo courtesy of eldan on Flickr

On 10 December 2010, Amber Thomas wrote in her blog post ‘Rethinking the O in OER’: “There’s a spectrum of use, reuse and repurposing, as it applies to academics and other sorts of users. We shouldn’t overweight the use case of academic repurposing.  Maybe use is good enough for the majority of people.”  In other words, perhaps ‘the repurposing and reuse of OER by those using it in teaching ‘ is somewhat overrated.

I could agree with Amber except in one respect. At a seminar at the Open University this past December (read my blog post about it here), I heard from a group of educators from Ghana that it is often very important to adjust OER to fit a new cultural context. Pedagogically-sound material can be rendered nearly useless by differences in cultural context. The projects mentioned above, along with those being done at the Open University, MIT, and many other institutions, have much yet to discover in the area of reuse and repurposing of OER.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist, Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo, and SPIDER PI

European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 2

This is the conclusion of my report on the European Apple Leadership Summit, which took place 11 January at the Mayfair Hotel in London. Three impressive case studies were highlighted:

University of Plymouth teaches iOS programming
It all started couple of years ago in Computer Science lecturer Nick Outram’s programming class. A student announced that his project was going to be to make an Apple App Store app, with the stated objective to make money on the sales. Nick didn’t know what to expect, but within a week or so, the student had created the app. Apple rejected it at first, but after some fixes, the student app passed. Not only so, but by the end of the term the student had earned £2k. Suddenly, people wanted to make apps. Nick started up a CPD class for students, charging a modest amount. In addition, the university began to offer 3-day app workshops to external developers.

University of Leeds Medical School loans iPhones to students
Gareth Frith of the Leeds Medical School reported that when the medical school CETL wanted to innovate, they decided to loan pay-as-you-go iPhones to students. Preloaded with the most important learning materials: the Oxford Handbook and the BNF prescription manual, students used their iPhones for information access anywhere, even in clinical training. The medical school plans to continue and expand the programme.

IMD Business School in Switzerland launches paperless courses with the iPad
Iain Cooke of IMD reported the executive business school was looking for a way to reduce the hassle and cost of printing 1000 sheets of paper per student per week,which was the norm. Their solution: paperless courses were launched with course materials and apps supplied on loaned iPads. Iain reported a savings of 10 Swiss Francs per student per day, and the programme paid for itself in 6 months just on the cost savings of printing alone.

I won’t go into detail about the app-making workshop I attended, except to say that I made a simple RSS -feeding app with the Apple SDK in about 15 minutes. But there are so many things which must be in place before one can quickly make those apps, that I can’t say it is a simple matter.

In sum, Apple made a pretty good claim to a history of technological innovation for education. Judging from the comments of other attendees, I was not alone in that positive opinion.

And it is only right to say, “Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Steve Jobs.”

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 1

On 11 January 2011 I attended the European Apple Leadership Summit at the Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a by-invitation-only event; my invitation was based on a few things, one of which is my work on the SPIDER project, looking at iTunes U as a distribution channel of open educational resources (OER). This meeting was Apple’s chance to make the case to those in leadership in European higher education that Apple software and hardware should play a role in educational technology. They mostly let case studies do the talking.

A Paperless Conference

This meeting was a one-day conference — keynote, invited speakers, and individual workshops. Apple did not hand out any papers nor post any charts in the lobby listing where each workshop would take place and who was signed up where. Rather, they gave all attendants an iPad for the day. I actually received an iPad for Christmas, and said to the nice Apple lady, “I have my own.” She said, “You’ll want ours, because it’s pre-loaded with conference stuff.” Indeed it was. There was a custom-made app for the conference, showing the Twitter stream, a little movie welcoming me to the event, bios of all the speakers, agenda for the day, list of delegates’ institutions, and an interactive survey to be filled in at the end. Because I signed into the app, with the same email address by which I registered for the conference, it knew who I was and which workshop(s) I signed up for, so it gave me a pop-up window telling me I had 10 minutes to get to my next session and displayed a little map showing me which room to go to. It did not work perfectly, but it was pretty close, and therefore pretty impressive. Of course I used the iPad throughout the conference especially to tweet. It was also a good chance to check out some of the new apps created by featured educators and speakers; while speakers were describing how they made these apps, I could check them out on my iPad. A couple of negatives about giving me an iPad: I had planned to take notes on my own iPad. If the Evernote app had been installed on the iPad they gave me, I would have been sorted; as it was, I quickly decided to take notes by liberal tweeting and a few paper scribbles. Another negative was that I would have liked a list of other delegates’ emails, or at least the emails of the speakers. But I handed in the iPad at the end of the day and had no list of delegates; of course I made contacts on my own, but it’s nice to have a list of delegates’ emails given to you. If this had been a proper academic conference, I would have thought the app should be tweaked to send a delegates’ list if desired.



'Globe' iPad app. Photo by kenco on Flickr.


News from Pearson Publishers

A very senior person from Pearson described how they are producing their textbooks in format suitable for all e-book reader devices: Kindle, epub for most e-readers, and media-rich epub for the iPad. She identified the iPad as the best vehicle for textbooks, because one can have colour photos and embedded movies and sound. The Open University, for example, has produced many free e-books (available on their iTunes U site) with embedded audio and (I believe) embedded video as well. The question I have here is: yes, iBooks displays multimedia-rich e-books beautifully. iBooks is Apple-only. Will there be an iBooks-type software for Windows computers and for nonApple handheld devices– how long will it take for something like this to appear?

There is more to report from this event. I shall write more in a future blog post.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

Loosening the UK copyright laws: has the time come?

Speaking recently at an event in London, PM David Cameron made the point that intellectual property laws are to be reviewed to “make them fit for the Internet age“.

The six-month review will look at the American model, and see what the UK can learn about using copyrighted material “without the rights holder’s permission”.

This is interesting, especially in the light of the recent – and fairly draconian – Digital Economy Bill (DEB).

It’s possible this is the first salvo in a policy that realises and accepts that new models of commerce must be produced for the Internet age. And part of this needs to be a reassessment of copyright itself, and particularly what “fair use” means today and might in the future.

Cameron seems to be suggesting that the lock-downs of DEB-type legislation are not conducive to economic growth. I don’t think I could argue with that.

As a result of the OTTER OER project here at the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, and the knowledge and experience of the University’s Copyright Officer and honorary OTTER, Tania Rowlett, we all have a much clearer understanding of these issues.

However, I’m aware that sometimes our enthusiasm in support of openness paints those opposed to loosening copyright in a bad light. This is unfair.

Take, for example, the academic publishing industry, one of the fiercest protectors of the principle of copyright. This industry has used a commercial production model that has worked extremely well since Gutenberg first developed his printing press around 1440. Yet now, in the space of probably less than a decade the revenue-generating potential of this model has come under threat from the technological revolution that Web 2.0 publishing has unleashed.

The fact that I’ve linked to Wikipedia – a free source of knowledge or information as some might argue – in the preceding sentence is a perfect example of this. If I still worked in publishing, I wouldn’t sleep very well either.

But download one of the Open University’s 100+ free interactive ebooks  – in my case, to my iPad … of course! – available through iTunes U to see what technology allows us to do. The new digital world can’t be all that bad for publishers. 

However, there does come a moment in human history when change has to be accepted and absorbed. The Prime Minister’s announcement may well be one of these moments for us in the UK.

If the dam is broken, it’s not worth throwing sandbags at it. Far better that the cascading waters are diverted, channelled and controlled to benefit everyone.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

iTunes U in UK Universities

I was surprised to read – in the listserv used by members of the Association of Learning Technology, a British-based but international organisation – an animated discussion of iTunes U in UK universities.

What surprised me was the deep concern felt by some correspondents about relying on a huge American company, Apple, to provide the vehicle for accessing albums containing British academic material.

Admittedly, my own view of Apple is coloured by long and valuable use of the company’s products. And my view of iTunes U is particularly favourable because of its outstanding success at the Open University, where a very wide public continues to download over a million ‘albums’ a month, about 27 million to date.

To some extent, I suppose, I have an inside view of iTunes U at the OU, because one of my family is a leading member of the team there. I’ve seen the care that goes into selecting material and presenting it.

Recently, with four BDRA colleagues, I wrote a paper* about OERs and we included a section about iTunes U at the OU. I wanted that because I see quite a few parallels between the albums and OERs being offered now by many UK universities. All of them are free to users. Creating them requires fairly similar processing and rights clearance. Few of them consist of a complete course or even a large part of one, yet all offer opportunities to get acquainted with a field of study.

Now the University of Leicester is thinking about moving into iTunes U as part of its educational mission. Without the OU’s huge resource of multi-media material to draw on, Leicester may think twice before committing resources to the creation of more than a fairly small number of albums, enough to establish a presence. Perhaps it will draw on OTTER’s products. Leicester may look for more evidence to emerge first about the benefits it would gain in the new higher education marketplace about to be established in the UK following the Browne Report and news of the government’s cuts in university budgets. If Leicester looks for ways of advertising more widely its academic products, iTunes U may be a channel it turns to, one that Martin Bean, the OU’s Vice-Chancellor, certainly rates very highly.

Yes, an American company hosts iTunes U, and very well too, without charge. Amazing, isn’t it, that such a company enables UK universities, as well as American ones and some others, to promote themselves worldwide? No wonder a recent report in The Guardian stated that the UK exports a great deal via the Internet: doubtless that includes a lot of higher education: 89% of the downloads from the OU’s iTunes U are by people living abroad.

David Hawkridge

* Hawkridge, D., Armellini, A., Nikoi, S., Rowlett, T. and Witthaus, G. (in press). Curriculum, intellectual property rights and open educational resources in British universities — and beyond. Journal of Computing in Higher Education.

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