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

An OER workshop in Afghanistan

We are very excited that Beyond Distance has been given the opportunity to collaborate with the Geology Department at the University of Leicester, and with Dr Dave Humphreys from the Open University, in running a workshop for academics at the University of Kabul in Afghanistan at the end of February. Dave and I have been working together on the programme  on curriculum design, including a focus on the incorporation of open educational resources (OERs) into the curriculum, which we will facilitate jointly.

The workshop is part of an ongoing series of networking activities between universities in the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as part of a project called DELPHE (Development Partnerships in Higher Education), led by Prof. Mike Petterson from Leicester, and supported by the British Council and DfID. (See Mike’s blog posts on an earlier visit to Kabul here.)

According to the DELPHE project plan:

This project has great potential to focus upon some key British Council and DfiD development goals – especially in education, good governance (at an institutional level) poverty alleviation (through development of highly skilled people, and assistance with economic development, e.g. through increased knowledge in mineral resources).

We are thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute to a very meaningful project, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out from colleagues in Kabul about the usefulness (or otherwise) of OERs in their context.

Watch this space for an update from Kabul in a few weeks’ time…

Gabi Witthaus, 4 Feb 2011

Updating E-moderating

Gilly Salmon’s classic book, E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online, is being revised for its third edition. As I had the pleasure of contributing to the first edition (2000), I’ve been quite fascinated by advising and working with Gilly on the updating.

What struck me when I re-opened my own copy of the 2000 edition was how immensely valuable the five-stage model has been, but also out-of-date some of the 1990s references looked and how obsolete the conferencing software (FirstClass) had become, to say nothing of the case studies and examples. That edition was reprinted three times. The second edition, which appeared in 2004 with new research and references, was reprinted four times, but today certainly needs updating. The research and practice have moved on again.

It was easy enough for me to compile two lists of the references, before and after 2000, for Gilly to go through. About half needed updating. Chasing updates proved difficult in a few cases, but most authors responded quickly and fully to my enquiries, sending relevant new material for possible inclusion. Inevitably, some authors had retired or moved on to other fields. A few had died.

I compiled another list of all the inserts and quotes, and we worked through those too. Again, about half must be changed, usually because there’s new software now, or the online course has been updated. Some will come from the same sources and institutions as before, others from new ones. Notably, most examples drawn from Gilly’s 1990s experience in training, online, hundreds of e-moderators for the Open University Business School will be replaced by ones from current training programmes elsewhere.

BDRA researchers have already provided several sections or paragraphs about their recent research, and there are more to come. E-moderating online when using asynchronous conferencing remains the focus of the book, but of course new technologies offer new opportunities. There will be more on synchronous conferencing, for example, using Elluminate instead of Lyceum. Second Life did not feature in the first and second editions, but will in the third. And so on.

The second half of the book consists of nearly 80 pages of research-based resources for practitioners, including e-moderators in training. Most of these need little revision, a reflection on how well Gilly chose them. A few could do with updating.

Needless to say, I am not re-writing the book, merely advising on its revision. Gilly is doing the re-writing, particularly for Chapter 6, which offers four scenarios of the future. She will be drawing on BDRA’s research on learning futures and probably incorporating her hindsight, insight and foresight model. Exciting stuff!

David Hawkridge

The expanding (job) market in e-learning

If you’ve been wondering, perhaps gloomily on the day after the Budget, whether cutbacks in university funding will affect your own job in e-learning, you may want to read some good news about the expanding market in e-learning elsewhere in the world.

The global market for e-learning reached US$27.1 billion in 2009, according to Ambient Insight. The Worldwide Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2009-2014 predicts a five-year compound annual growth rate of 12.8% overall, but an impressive 33.5% for Asia. Key findings from this report include: a resistance to content that has been translated from another language but not truly localized for specific countries, and a boom in global demand for courses offered by for-profit international virtual education providers. SkillSoft is one of the world’s largest commercial e-learning suppliers, having absorbed Smartforce, CBT Systems and NETg over the years. It has now been acquired by a group of private equity firms for approximately $1.1 billion. Or you may like to read a recent Sloan Consortium report – Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009

Meantime, 48.3% of Korean internet users  took some form of e-learning in 2009, according to the Korea Times. Those under 19 years old made the most use (72%) while those aged 50 or more made much less use (18%) of e-learning.

If you’re interested in the flourishing state of e-learning in 39 countries across Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, turn to the comprehensive two volume set of PDFs edited by Turkey’s Prof Ugur Demiray.

True, you might have to leave the UK to take advantage of the job opportunities in these markets, and you might even have to learn another language or two. Strange that, when you think of how much is being done online, globally… and in English.

It isn’t surprising that registrations for the MA in Online and Distance Education at the Open University have risen sharply in the last couple of years. The expanding market in e-learning augurs well for BDRA’s own proposed MSc in Innovative Education and Training, to be launched worldwide later this year.

David Hawkridge

Publishing e-learning research in higher education

If you’ve resolved to publish more of your e-learning research in the New Year, you may find useful a list of peer-reviewed journals that publish papers in our e-learning field with special reference to higher education. I’ve not included US journals because they seldom take foreign contributions, but all on my list have an international readership. Each one contains a statement of themes covered and the preferred types of article. The editor will usually respond to enquiries about the relevance of a new topic to his or her journal.

Some journal web sites carry an ‘impact factor’ related to how often their articles are cited by other authors. Broadly speaking a factor above 1.0 indicates a journal that commands more respect and attention than those with factors below 1.0. There’s more here if you want to understand the virtues and problems of impact factors of journals.

Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education

Association for Learning Technology Journal

British Journal of Educational Technology (1.041)

Computers & Education (2.190)

European Journal of Open, Distance & E-learning

Higher Education Quarterly

Innovations in Education & Teaching International (0.250)

International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning (Canadian)

Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (1.065)

Journal of Further & Higher Education

Studies in Higher Education (0.938)

Teaching in Higher Education (0.500)

There are also solely online journals, such as the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME, from the Open University).

A good principle to adopt as a researcher is to write up every project you are engaged in and try to find a suitable peer-reviewed journal. When you submit an article, even if it is rejected, you are likely to get some useful feedback, but it’s worth asking a colleague or two to have a look at your article before submission.

BDRA researchers have published recently in:

British Journal of Educational Technology (5 papers)

Electronic Journal of e-Learning (1 paper)

European Journal of Open, Distance & E-learning (1 paper)

International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (1 paper)

Journal of the Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre (1 paper)

Journal of Lifelong Learning in Europe (1 paper)

Reflecting Education (1 paper)

Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education (1 paper)

Good luck!

David Hawkridge

Mixed Messages about Elearning

Do we know what’s happening to elearning out in the wide world? I’ve been getting mixed messages. Here are three US ones for us to reflect on, and another from South Africa.

The US market for self-paced elearning will reach $16.7 billion in 2009 according to a new report by Ambient Insight*. The demand for online training is growing by 7.4% annually and revenues will reach $23.8 billion by 2014. “We see the highest growth rate in the healthcare segment, followed by Pre-K-12 and higher education,” comments CEO Tyson Greer.

The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research in Boulder, Colorado, has an annual report on US undergraduate IT use*. It is in its fifth year and now includes some data on mobile technology use. Students “consistently report that they prefer only a moderate amount of IT when it comes to their courses”.

Here’s a summary of a report on the 21st-Century Campus*, based on a survey of 1017 US students. This finds that only 38% of students indicated that their instructors “understand technology and fully integrate it into their classes” although, in contrast, the higher education instructor view was that 74% “incorporate technology into every class or nearly every class”. 52% of students said they use social networking tools for education, but only 14% of faculty members said they use social networking for teaching purposes.

I can’t say I’m at all surprised to hear these statistics: while IT producers and sellers push their wares, staff and students in higher education live in the real world of widely varying provision and have to get by with what they’ve got. And more isn’t always better.

I was pleased to have news, however, from the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Educational Technology of Facilitating Online*. It is a course written to train educators as online facilitators of fully online and mixed mode courses . It comprises a Course Leader’s Guide and a specimen website. The guide contains the course model, week-by-week learning activities, general guidance to the course leader on how to implement and customise the course and specific guidelines on each learning activity. Tony Carr, who has visited BDRA, is one of the originators of this course.

And a forthcoming internal event at the Open University will showcase very interesting uses of Google Earth, iTunes, image galleries, Elluminate, structured content and interactive DVDs, all in the Arts Faculty, not always the one that first comes to my mind. By the way, iTunes U for the OU has just recorded its 10 millionth download since launch 75 weeks ago: now that’s mass elearning for you! Have a listen for yourself.

David Hawkridge

PS I need more training in inserting URLs into blogs, but if you want any of these, just email me at d.g.hawkridge@open.ac.uk, please.

Our Learning Futures Festival and those digital natives

The BDRA Learning Futures Festival Online, entitled ‘Positively Disruptive’, is only a few weeks away:


I’ve decided whom to invite to ‘attend’, but few of them would call themselves digital natives so I visited a first-year Oxford undergraduate at University College, founded in 1249. Her study is in buildings (see photo) once frequented by Harold Wilson, Stephen Hawking and Bill Clinton. Her history essay, due that evening, was on: Was de Tocqueville right in saying that religion is not inimical to democracy?

University College

FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter are daily diet for her, but books, she felt, held the key to her answer. Fresh from school, she is definitely a ‘digital native’, with wi-fi access from her study to all the Internet’s resources, yet she turned to the college library:

College Library

Nearby is the Bodleian Library, dating back to 1602 and containing more than 8 million volumes. E-learning has to be positively disruptive in such a situation.

A few days later, I noticed the abstract of a talk, “The Net Generation encountering e-learning at university”, by Chris Jones (Institute of Educational Technology) at the Open University: it was about an ESRC-funded project that started in January 2008. The research took place with first-year students in five English universities who were studying a broad range of courses. The project took a critical view of the idea that there was a distinct generation of young people that has been described using various terms including the ‘Net Generation’ and ‘Digital Natives’, and explored age-related differences amongst first-year university students.

The talk drew on evidence from three surveys and a range of qualitative data including interviews and a cultural probe called the ‘Day Experience Method’. Overall, Jones and his team found a complex picture amongst first-year students with the sample population appearing to be a collection of minorities. These included a small minority that made little use of some technologies and larger minorities that made extensive use of new technologies. Often, Chris said, the use of new technology was in ways that did not fully correspond with the expectations that arise from the Net Generation and Digital Natives theses. He argued that whilst there are strong age-related variations amongst the sample it is far too simplistic to describe first-year students born after 1983 as a single generation. His team found that the generation age group was not homogenous in its use and appreciation of new technologies and that there were significant variations amongst students that lay within the Net Generation age band.

I’m sure these issues will crop up during the Festival. Meantime, I’ll keep in touch with that native at Oxford University.

David Hawkridge

What I’ve heard just this week

Epic recently hosted a debate about eLearning at the Oxford Union. Diana Laurillard was among the speakers for the motion ‘This house believes that the e-learning of today is essential for the important skills of tomorrow’, whilst those against were led by Marc Rosenberg (I’m not sure which one). The motion was defeated on the day by 90:144, but I’m told the debate continues on the Epic site (where the vote is now in favour), via YouTube and on blogs such as those of Clive Shepherd and Stephen Downes. Let me know if you have time to catch up with this one, please.

Some of us saw and heard Martin Bean, the new VC of the Open University, speak at ALT-C. He will be giving a shortened version in Second Life (live, using an avatar) on December 16th at 3:30pm. The session will be chaired by Claudia L’Amoreaux (aka Claudia Linden), Education Programmes Manager for Linden Lab. The inworld audience will be limited to 50, but the session will be recorded and archived online for those unable to attend in person. If you are a confident avatar driver and would like to be in the inworld audience, you can send your name and avatar name to virtualworlds@open.ac.uk, with the subject line VC EVENT. First come, first served. Don’t all rush…

The latest Virtual World Watch report from John Kirriemuir (funded by Eduserv) is now available at http://tinyurl.com/ykscp77 He focuses this time on how institutions are choosing/have chosen their particular environment. Second Life features strongly, but there are references to other worlds and their capabilities and/or limits. I gather that the Open University is analysing in detail what’s needed to support learning and which worlds can best provide for it. This report is one I shall try to read for myself.

David Hawkridge

On assessment and alignment

Last week I sat the final exam of the Open University’s Certificate in Management. The version I did (B615) was a 1-year, 60-credit course, divided into 4 modules. The course has been a major component of my CPD and a most enjoyable experience. As is the case with most exams, no matter how much you’ve enjoyed the course, you’re glad when it’s over. The results will be out in December.

An interesting aspect of the course was precisely its assessment. We had online discussions, peer feedback and electronic submissions of assignments throughout (5 assignments in total)… yet the final summative assessment was a 3-hour, individual, sit-down, closed-book, handwritten exam. I hadn’t done an exam like that for over 20 years.

Is a final exam the most appropriate method of assessing students on this course? If so, is this type of exam the most suitable option? It seems that this is a prime example of misalignment between the final assessment and everything else that all students are required to do throughout the programme. Allowing the use of word-processors would have helped – not least those of us whose handwriting has deteriorated over the years by doing exactly what the previous stages of this course asks of students, i.e. using computers for all their coursework.

I look forward to receiving my result. In the meantime, I’ll continue to reflect on fit-for-purpose curriculum design and assessment choices.

Dr A Armellini
27 October 2009

Students’ ICT literacies

Have a good look at the Proceedings* of the Association for Learning Technology’s Conference, held in Manchester this month, because the papers have much to say about our students and their learning, particularly their ICT literacies – or their lack of them.

It’s easy for us to get complacent about what students OUGHT to be able to do, but what if they can’t? Members of the Net Generation, the digital natives, may not be as skilled as we think they should be.

Of course, it’s very intriguing to read about collaborative mind mapping through Twitter and FreeMind (at the University of Bolton), but the skills required are certainly not widely distributed among our students at present. A Canadian study of problems that students have in learning online offers some suggestions for helping them, but mainly through selecting the right technologies.

For contrast, read the report of a national study by Sero Consulting of next generation user skills: what employers will need, what young people will have, what generic skills will be needed, all in 2013, not now. The study offers an overview of current skills, models the Next Generation Skillscape of activities and competencies, and maps these onto tools and awards, showing where the gaps will arise.

In plainer English, what’s it going to be like in 2013 and how can it be better than we think it will be?

You may be interested to know that at the Open University Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea have got funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council to run a seminar series entitled ‘Literacy in the Digital University’. This will bring together researchers and practitioners from the applied linguistics and technology-enhanced learning fields to share ideas about ‘new literacies’ and learning in higher education.

Other participants include Sian Bayne from Edinburgh University, David Barton from Lancaster, Alison Littlejohn from Glasgow Caledonian, and Helen Beetham, freelance writer and researcher.

Robin has started a blog about LiDU ideas.

The first seminar will be at Edinburgh University on October 16th 2009. Places are limited but there may still be some available: contact Robin at r.goodfellow@open.ac.uk for further details.


*Damis, H. and Creanor, L. (2009) “In dreams begins responsibility” – choice, evidence and change. 16th Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C 2009). Held 8-10 September 2009, University of Manchester, England, UK.

%d bloggers like this: