OER is about sharing, remember

Sir John Daniel, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning

Sir John Daniel from the Commonwealth of Learning was interviewed by Creative Commons’ Timothy Vollmer recently about his ideas on open education. He is one of the wisest, most gracious members of this community, and I just loved some of the answers.

Many of the COL member states are located in the global south. How does an OER policy affect global south states differently than the global north?

I’m exaggerating quite a bit here, but we’ve observed that in the north people are more focused on producing OER and that in the south people are more focused on how they can use OER. Just a few months ago I was at the Open Courseware Conference in Boston. Perhaps three-fourths of the presentations there focused on producing OER, while only a small number were about re-purposing and reusing OER content. This has to change for the OER movement to take off.

In the south, there’s a cautious attitude of “there’s lots of stuff available, why not use it?” We’ve been encouraging the north to take a more universal approach and think multidirectionally. This is why we’re delighted that a school like the University of Michigan is using OER from Malawi and Ghana in its medical programs. Why should the University of Michigan create OERs about tropical diseases when there are folks that live in the tropics that can do it better? So, we encourage people to see OER production and use as a multi-directional flow.

Yes! Open education should certainly be about mutual sharing and cooperation! It should be about breaking down barriers that Continue reading

The Spaces Between: Towards Private Spaces for Peer Learning

Alex and I completed our masters projects report on Thursday night. I thought I’d post the research that I did looking at information flows at the I School and the role of architecture in shaping the kinds of interactions that were taking place.

Interviewing students, staff and faculty and observing what was going down in the students lounge, the classroom, the co-lab and corridors, I concluded that the “spaces between” class play an important role in the learning experience because it is here where students can construct knowledge with their peers and practice the performance of their new identities. The fact that these spaces are located outside the purview of those in authority and that they enable students to choose who they can be intimate with is critical to the success of these spaces for enabling peer learning. In contrast, private digital spaces are unavailable to students, with the result that students attempted to use spaces like Facebook to engage with one another resulting in harms including exclusion, identity crises and self-censorship.

I noticed that the architecture of online-only educational spaces (looking at learning management systems, social media learning systems and open educational learning environments) seemed to replicate only the classroom space during class but without the protective walls available in conventional learning environments. This is really just exploratory research but I believe that the lack of nuanced social environments in online learning systems is a big part of what is leading to high dropout rates in distance/online learning programs and that we really need to build for “intimacy” rather than either the “private/closed” or “public/open” architecture characterised by current systems.

I’d love to carry on this research in the next few months but would love any feedback in the meantime.

And, yay! I’m going to graduate!

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GroupB at WIPO drops education from the workplan at #SCCR21

I woke up this morning to some disappointing news. After a push by developing countries at WIPO’s copyright meeting to include a substantive discussion on exceptions and limitations (E&Ls) to copyright for education, Group B (EU, US) has dropped any reference to education being covered in future meetings. The work plan does refer to E&Ls for libraries and archives + “on another exception to be agreed”, leaving some room to get education back on the agenda but there there is obviously some strong pressure against this since it did appear in an earlier version.

The focus on libraries and archives seems to miss a strong point about accessing learning materials in the digital age. Although libraries and archives are important for negotiating group access to academic journals etc, most of the current problems around exceptions and limitations are experienced by teachers and learners in academic institutions. Many national laws do not cover electronic distribution for educational purposes (either they’re still stuck in the analogue age or their publishers are forcing them to be stuck there) and when they do cover electronic distribution (for example in the US) their scope is way too limiting to be really useful. Added to that is the problem that DRM and laws that prohibit the circumvention of DRM leave many teachers in the lurch when they’re trying to make sections of works (especially video works) available to their students. If you’re not allowed to circumvent DRM but you need to do that in order to exercise your right to make a section of a work available to students, what do you do? Most teachers prefer, understandably, to err on the side of caution – especially since the publishing industry can be incredibly trigger-happy when faced with a case where they can bend legal precedent to their will (see Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al. in the United States where academic publishers have filed a copyright lawsuit against the president, provost, and librarian of Georgia State University for the university’s use of electronic reserves as a case in point).

So, yes, Houston, we have a problem – a problem that should be solved for teachers and learners rather than just libraries (even though libraries have enough problems of their own as the ereserves case points out). Friends in Geneva tell me not to worry – that the ‘Africa Group, GRULAC (minus Mexico) and Asia will push back hard to get education back on the agenda’.

Holding thumbs for that outcome but depressed as always with the shenanigans at WIPO.