OERs now firmly embedded in our minds

Reading my colleagues’ recent posts, both here and on project sites such as SPIDER and OSTRICH, it struck me just how embedded open educational resources (OERs) have become in the department.

Whenever we outline possible projects and bids, or undertake any other work, openness is now a central part of what we do. In fact, ‘Will it be OER-able?’ is always the first question asked. (The provenance of this term is almost certainly Gabi, once an OTTER and now an OSTRICH.)

I was fortunate enough to start in Beyond Distance as a learning technologist on OTTER, so I learned much of what I know about OERs in the first four months of that project. And it was the members of the OTTER team – Gabi, Sahm, Tania, Ale, Gilly – that were largely responsible for inculcating this notion of openness.  

Anecdotally, evidence is emerging that OERs are being used by students, especially those from overseas, to assess HEIs as potential places for postgraduate studies. And Dave White’s work at Oxford should throw more light on the use and reuse of OERs.

But probably what’s so impressive about the notion of openness is that it now permeates all levels of education. Our sector is HE, so this is where we tend to focus our attention. But shared notes, guides and lesson plans for schoolteachers have been available for some time.

And Adult Education is no different. For example, on 15 February I will be part of a panel called OERs in Action at a day-long seminar put on by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), who have done excellent work in the field of adult digital literacy. They’re also our neighbours here in Leicester.

As Dave White and others point out, OERs have until now been driven by supply: plenty of HEIs are producing them with little evidence of their use. But I am confident this missing evidence will emerge over the coming years.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

OER Programme Meeting, 19 January 2011

Yesterday 19 January was the Programme Meeting for the OER Phase 2 projects in Birmingham. At Beyond Distance, we are participating in TIGER (new release project) and OSTRICH (cascade project).

We started with a few generic sessions relevant to all strands, including those led by:

  • Terry McAndrew (TechDis) on accessibility, and
  • David White (Oxford) on how OERs are being used – an interesting diagram available from his project blog, not too different from a 2×2 matrix currently being developed by OSTRICH.

Vic Jenkins (University of Bath, OSTRICH project partner) and I then joined the cascade strand discussions, where topics included working with partners, institutional embedding of OER in learning and teaching strategies and shared repositories. Highlights from these discussions included:

  • ‘Evaluation’. At BDRA, over the years, we have taken the view that in order to generate robust evidence that academics and others in the Higher Education sector can relate to, you need research. ‘Evaluation’ is useful and sometimes appropriate, but to foster meaningful and evidence-based change, you need more than that. The collection, analysis and presentation of research evidence (beyond sets of interesting quotations) may help to provide answers to the many questions we discussed (e.g. practice change, development and release, organisational and cultural issues, impact). Some of the questions overlap with TIGER’s research questions. It is no coincidence that the TIGER project has a full-time researcher in the team – this is precisely to generate robust and reliable evidence.
  • Innovative platforms for OERs, which perform highly visible marketing and a T&L functions, such as iTunesU. 30 million downloads of the Open University’s iTunesU resources, 2.5 million of Coventry’s in 2010 alone. We discussed how some HE Marketing Departments do not seem to realise the power of these platforms and the OERs on them. Even a relatively small presence, consisting of some frankly tedious resources, are of significant value to many prospective students, at a marginal cost to the university.
  • Single project repositories for OERs, as opposed to institutional, branded repositories. Are we saving or wasting our time by having ‘sanitised’, project repositories? Will institutions use these repositories after the end of the projects or will they generate their own fully branded ones?

A lot of ideas to think about as our projects develop.

Alejandro Armellini
PI, OSTRICH Project
20 January 2011

Mobile OERs for Interprofessional Education

As part of the TIGER research, I observed a practical training session at Loughborough Hospital last Monday and Tuesday (8-9 Nov 2010). 15 students studying different subjects: Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Social Work, most of them in their final year, took part in the training about Interprofessional Working (IPW). The students were put into four groups, 3-4 students in each group, to work together throughout the 4-day event.

The training featured different practical activities, including a group-based case study in which students learn about discharge policy, process and care package for an elderly patient, a group presentation based on their case study, presentations and discussions led by practitioners and experts in different fields, and an simulation regarding elderly patients.

I had the opportunity to talk to several students there and learned about some issues related to accessing learning resources in the workplace:

  • Their access is restricted to limited medical websites and databases due to the hospital’s firewall.
  • Small hospitals may not have facilities such as a library for students and staff to access the internet and resources.
  • Students on work placement are very busy. They generally think that they have no time to access any kind of materials or resources.
  • No student brought a laptop with them to the training. Some have iPhones or smartphones which they use to access the internet.

Accessibility is absolutely essential in the TIGER project. I could see the potential of making OERs in mobile format to increase students’ accessibility to learning materials and resources while on work placement. However, there is an issue with using mobile phones in hospitals as the NHS does not encourage staff to use mobile devices to access the internet at work. There is a cultural barrier which needs addressing.

There is already a movement of increasing use of mobile devices in medical contexts. Medical students at Leeds University are given iPhones as part of their study. In their final two years, medical students spend much of their time in hospitals, GP surgeries and clinics. iPhones give them the opportunity to stay in contact with the tutors, course materials and textbooks. Another example is the Sarasota, Florida Memorial Healthcare System which gives nurses iTouch and iPhones to communicate and stay connected.

Ming Nie              17 Nov 2010

Updates on TIGER activities

Three animals joined the Media Zoo this year: TIGER, OSTRICH and SPIDER. All three projects are to do with Open Educational Resources (OERs).

In TIGER (Transforming Interprofessional Groups through Educational Resources) three institutions: the University of Northampton, De Montfort University, and the University of Leicester work collaboratively to develop, create and release reusable and customisable OERs for Interprofessional Education (IPE) in Health and Social Care. TIGER will evaluate the impact of OERs on academics and students of three institutions, and IPE practitioners working in hospitals.

I’m about to take my first step into TIGER research. From next week, there is an opportunity for me to observe some face-to-face teaching sessions that introduce students into Interprofessional working at Leicester.  Also next week, there is an opportunity for me to visit a local hospital where medical students join students from nursing, social work, and speech and language therapy from Leicester University to attend a 4-day Interprofessional Education programme. The students will be placed in small groups to learn together in ward for care of the elderly. They will explore the roles and responsibilities of each profession relating to care planning.

These events will help me understand the current teaching practice in IPE. They will also provide opportunities to identify how OERs can be used to influence the current practice and support student practical-based learning in workplace.

Ming Nie              7 November 2010

You say goodbye….

My time at Beyond Distance is coming to an end and I felt this was a good time to look back at some achievements during my work with DUCKLING, OTTER and the entire Beyond Distance team that I value most.

  • DUCKLING in an eggshell.   This poster an attempt to crack out of the typical ‘research project-poster’ style and is one of the deliverables of the DUCKLING project.
  • Being an award winning OTTER. I previously blogged about this but winning the virtual poster competition, but the chance to caricature all the OTTER team stands out for me. One team member even used his picture in his Facebook profile picture!
  • Producing 438 credits worth of OERs (with the OTTER team).  The team went above and beyond the call of duty (i.e funder’s requirements) by producing such an impressive amount of credits.  Take a look through our repository and let us know what you think!
  • A new Media Zoo banner and logo.  The Media Zoo website has moved into Plone (our content management system) and with it comes a new banner and logo.  I’m pleased with my attempt at capturing the feel of the physical zoo with the array animals that ‘live’ there.
  • Learning Futures Festival Online 2010.  To be part of an 8 day 24/7 online conference was a huge achievement during a snowy January that brought the UK to a standstill.  What makes this an even greater achievement is that we released over 75% of the keynotes, workshops and paper presentations as OERs.

And one more thing that I’m proud of is the small amount of photos of me that exist during my time here, to which my colleagues can testify!  As someone who does npot enjoy getting their photo taken this is definitely an achievement.

Finally could I take this opportunity to wish everyone at Beyond Distance and other colleagues at the University of Leicester the very best for the future while I (hopefully) say ‘hello’ to new opportunities.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

What do a TIGER and an OSTRICH have in common?

As mentioned by Ale last week, the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester has received further funding from JISC and the HEA to continue spearheading the creation and release of learning materials as open educational resources (OERs) via the OSTRICH (OER Sustainability through Teaching & Research Innovation: Cascading across HEIs) project. There is also the TIGER (Transforming Interprofessional Groups through Educational Resources) project – more about that below.

Beyond Distance established a reputation for its work in OERs through the OTTER (Open, Transferable, Technology-enhanced Educational Resources) project from May 2009 to April 2010, in which over 430 credits’ worth of learning materials were published as OERs, in 13 subject areas ranging from Politics through Law to Genetics. (See www.le.ac.uk/oer.) A major outcome of the OTTER project was a workflow and quality framework called CORRE, which includes step-by-step procedures for ensuring that there is no breach of third-party copyright, and transforming and formatting materials to make them reusable and customisable by other academics and students in different contexts. Beyond Distance is now leading the way for other institutions to apply the knowledge gained from piloting CORRE at the University of Leicester during the OTTER project.

In the OSTRICH project, the University of Leicester is supporting the Universities of Bath and Derby in creating and publishing at least 100 credits’ worth of OERs each, in a range of subject areas, following procedures based on the CORRE framework from OTTER. The OSTRICH project is also developing and testing a model for cascading knowledge about OERs and OER processes, enabling other higher education institutions to gain from the knowledge learnt during OTTER. Apart from the OERs themselves, all workflow templates and draft policy guidelines produced in the project will be made available for other institutions to customise to their contexts.

TIGER is a collaborative project between the University of Northampton, De Montfort University (DMU) and the University of Leicester, and will release teaching resources amounting to at least 360 credits into Jorum Open, the main repository for UK Higher Education, and TIGER’s own repository. The three institutions will collect, develop and share OERs designed for Interprofessional Education (IPE) in Health and Social Care. IPE is an emerging field within Health and Social Care curricula, in which students learn about each others’ professional practice to enable more effective collaboration and improve health outcomes. The TIGER project aims to dramatically benefit IPE in Health and Social Care and to solve ongoing challenges in cross-professional collaboration. TIGER OERs will address topic areas for which there is a great and ongoing need, and will be easily accessible to clinical teams in their workplaces via the Web. The OERs will ultimately benefit patients, because they focus on improving the quality of care delivery.

Beyond Distance is proud to be one of the institutions at the forefront of the OER movement in the UK, raising the profile of not only the University of Leicester but also of UK Higher Education in general, in the international Higher Education market.

Gabi Witthaus and Ming Nie, 25 Oct 2010

Redevelopment of the Media Zoo Island in Second Life

In line with the launch of the new Media Zoo website, now with a great new banner designed by Emma, I have started work on redeveloping the Media Zoo Island in Second Life – with help from Paul, of course.

The island was built originally to serve as a place to showcase all the projects of Beyond Distance, as well as specifically to run the Second Life MOOSE project. As we move into 2011, and especially because of the requirements of SWIFT, the time has come to move the island into what I’ve called Phase II of its existence.

Part of the DUCKLING project, the oil rig has proved an popular artefact and simulation, and will be part of the 2010 JISC online conference. It is the main feature in the lagoon and, because it wasn’t needed for Phase II, we removed the boat house. The pier has been kept, and the motor launches used to ferry visitors and students to the rig will moored along it.

boat house

Selecting and removing the boat house

Another significant change in the lagoon has been to move and reshape the beach that formed such an important part of our 2010 Learning Futures Festival. The beach now forms part of the penininsula that contains the Saami tent.

beach

The new beach

The main work, however, will come with readapting what were the Safari Park and Breeding Area domes. One will be used to  showcase the projects from all four quadrants of the Media Zoo while the other – at the moment – is likely to become an auditorium/lecture hall/gathering place.

Phase II, which builds upon the success of Phase I, is partly about adapting the island to current needs, but also preparing it for future work and projects.

Join us on Media Zoo Island at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Media%20Zoo/171/102/25.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

The importance of backups

Once upon a time, I worked as a programmer in the R&D department of a large computer company. There was an expensive air-conditioned computer room with people whose job it was to look after the (then) cutting edge hardware. One day, we arrived for work to find that the equivalent of the main file server was down, and a number of engineers from the hardware company ware scurrying around the fancy computer room looking flustered. Of course, being a business environment, we were soon found some work to fill the time (filing papers or something) until after lunch when we were told the system was back.

Well, “back” is the word – back a whole week, in fact. The IT department took regular backups (monthly rotating copies – lost data may not be noticed for a while – off-site – in case of fire, etc. – daily incremental – changes since the last complete backup – and so forth) but it seems the contractors hadn’t been so careful. They had managed to wipe the main disc (or maybe it had crashed already) along with a week’s worth of backups. This was three days before the customer delivery deadline. Being a commercial organisation of course, they didn’t want to delay delivery, so it was down to the programmers to redo a week’s worth of programming and finish the project in the remaining three days (well, five in fact, as there was a weekend attached). It was, actually, a valuable lesson in the importance of backing up one’s work.

Zipping forward in time, to University of Leicester’s SWIFT project in 2010.

We have created two virtual laboratories in the virtual world of Second Life (SL) – not a small task. Now as before, we are trusting a third party to make suitable backups of that work (Linden Labs in fact, who run the Second life system). Now for all I know, they may have a backup regime to rival NASA. It’s just that, well, past experience has taught me to always make my own backups as well.

So I was very happy this week to find just how easy  SL backups can be. I used the independent (of SL) viewer “Imprudence” and simply selected “Export” from the pie menu. You can’t backup textures and scripts, or other people’s objects, but since we created everything we now have a directory from which we could restore the main parts of our virtual genetics lab should we ever need to.

But it gets better! I was investigating Imprudence because I was recommended a web page giving easy  instructions for installing Opensim (Opensim provides a free open-source virtual environment, largely compatible with SL).  In less than a couple of hours I recreated our virtual lab in our own Opensim environment – our own, private SWIFT.

There’s more . . . as my colleague Simon Kear pointed out, it should be possible to create a distributable single-user virtual world for anyone to use – a complete OER (Open Educational Resource), the virtual world and its project such as SWIFT, for download to a memory stick to run anywhere, no Second Life or even internet connection required.

Currently, we like to distribute “regular” OERs in several formats, such as DOC, PDF and e-book formats, so as to ensure they can be used by as many people as possible. That’s why it’s exciting to find we could distribute virtual world artefacts in a new way that anyone with a fairly new computer could take and use. Our OTTER project was very successful in setting up a streamlined mechanism for distributing OERs. As more is built in virtual worlds, maybe it’s time for “virtual-OTTER” – a project to incorporate virtual worlds into the OER fold.

OERs – the ultimate off-site backup!

Paul Rudman, BDRA

A digital divide only in theory

I was delighted to see Tony Bates’ comment the other day on Supporting Distance Learners, the open educational resource (OER) I wrote with SAIDE, which is on the OERAfrica and OTTER repositories. Tony points to the excellent work that SAIDE has been doing in recent years in promoting the creation of OERs for use in developing countries, in partnership with OERAfrica.

Re-reading the desription of ‘Supporting Distance Learners’, I was struck by the realisation that, although this resource was originally aimed at addressing the sense of disempowerment felt by some tutors in developing countries when making the transition from traditional, paper-based distance education to online platforms, many of the distance tutors I have worked with in England are currently making the same transition, and experiencing almost identical feelings.

Uncertainty about the best way to make use of the discussion forum, wikis, blogs and virtual classrooms; fears about the extent to which online technologies will impact on the flexibility of the course for students; anxiety about the amount of time that will be required for tutors to learn the new technology – and actually e-moderate the course; worries about a perceived increase in opportunities for plagiarism; and fears about the possible challenges to their own subject matter knowledge as a result of student interaction: these are some of the feelings experienced by distance tutors in both contexts.

The primary concern, however, seems to be the recognition that online platforms demand a redesign of distance courses for the collaboration opportunities afforded to be fully exploited, and an uncertainty around how to do this – or even whether it is worth doing at all. Many tutors who have spent their careers in a traditional distance education environment are used to the idea that, for their students, learning is a solitary act of knowledge construction, based on individual reading and reflection, with occasional tutorial support. For these tutors, the idea of building collaboration into the curriculum is a major paradigm shift. (I have written more about the difficulties experienced by new online tutors, and possible ways of providing tutor support, elsewhere.)

Some tutors, in both contexts, however, get excited about the opportunities for peer interaction, and their enthusiasm overcomes all of the above concerns. The real digitial divide seems to straddle developed and developing countries, and seems to be more about tutors’ theories of how distance learners learn – especially their views on individual vs social constructivism – than any contextual obstacles, such as lack of access to computers and the Internet. As much as distance learners need support in the move to online learning, distance tutors need a supportive environment in which to discuss their concerns and share solutions. That way, the theoretical digital divide might begin to blur.

Gabi Witthaus, 3 October 2010

Beyond Distance wins international academic e-learning award

IELA certificate

International E-Learning Association: Academic E-Learning Winner

We were all very excited to learn this week that Beyond Distance has won a major international e-learning award as a result of its work on an online course offered by the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.

The International E-Learning Association (IELA) selected the Dissertation Module as the winner of the Academic E-learning category.

Drawn directly from the Carpe Diem learning design process, the Dissertation Module is part of a highly successful suite of distance learning MA courses in International Relations at Leicester.

The Dissertation Module uses e-tivities – a key component of the Salmon 5-stage model – that incorporate Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis to scaffold learners towards a structured path to a coherent, interesting and viable dissertation topic.

The adaptability of the Dissertation Module has seen it adopted by other distance learning departments at the university. It is also available as a fully repurposable open educational resource as an output of the OTTER project.

The Dissertation Module is the result of successful collaboration between departments, services and individuals, and illustrative of what can be achieved by drawing upon skills and experience contained within the University as a whole.

Please visit the distance learning pages of the Department of Politics and International Relations for further details on this and other modules on offer. 

Simon Kear
Keeper of the Media Zoo

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