Open Education: From Resources to Practice
Written by Adrian Stagg and Emma Power, University of Southern Queensland
On our penultimate day, it’s time to look at some of the more practical elements of OEP. For those of you who attended the ‘Practical Openness’ presentation and panel yesterday, you would have noticed that openness isn’t as easy as many first think. This, like open assessment, is an issue that has been recognised recently, but translating this into action has been slow.
Some of us might recall having our own ‘Awesome Remix Tape’, a less-than-legal method of remix, but a common one. Sitting by the radio with your finger on the Pause button (as Play and Record were already locked down), waiting for ‘that song’ to play took a lot of time. Then if you wanted to share it with a friend there were technology barriers (did they have a dual tape deck?), storage barriers (were their enough spare minutes on their blank tape?), and of course sequencing barriers (it took a very specialised set of skills to splice audio).
If you want, use that as the frame of reference that will extend into today’s discussion.
Open for sharing
It bears mentioning again – because of the fundamental nature of OEP – that it’s not about ‘free resources’ (well, not just about that). The ability to Retain, Reuse, Remix, Revise, and Repurpose through open licencing is the powerbase of OEP. If practitioners are only concerned with OER, then the questions are:
- What licence do we want to use and promote?
- Where will we store the resulting resources?
However, for OEP, the questions become more complex, namely:
- How do we enable others to easily (re)use our work?, and
- What is the best place to store OER so that others can find, (re)use, and share them?
The potential answers will challenge your existing practice, and your institutional norms.
Learning Activity 7
In the Comments section below, I’m interested in three things:
(1) What is the function of the resources you create as part of your work?
(2) What file formats do these resources take?
(3) Where do you most commonly store these resources?
No PDF please, we’re open
I suspect (and this will play out in the Comments) that many of you create text materials in .pdf. There is nothing wrong with that at all; it’s a file format that is ubiquitous, you don’t need proprietary software to read them (for example, Sumatra is a free open source alternative to Adobe products), and they are (within reason) fairly easy to share. Taking legacy content that already exists, and adding a Creative Commons Licence seems like a good start to engaging with OER.
Most practitioners begin their open journey with existing content, so there is nothing wrong with this approach. However, in the longer term, proprietary file formats are difficult to remix – consider what it takes to revise a PDF without the source file. Most university staff don’t have access to the full suite of Adobe products, and this presents an immediate barrier. There are plenty of ways around this, but a degree of persistence is required.
It might seem as though I’m maligning the PDF alone, but the same applies to Windows Media Player files, iTunesU lectures, and any proprietary file format (such as Amazon’s version of EPUB3, the .azw file that means you can’t read your Kindle books without a Kindle or the Kindle app).
Here’s the challenge to consider: if you are serious about sharing your work and have a desire for others to (re)use the material, provide it in multiple file formats. For example, I use Open Office to compose text documents (all the work for this course was done in .odt files). I need to create this base file if I wanted a .pdf, or if I wanted to upload it to a Learning Management System (LMS) anyway so it’s not an extra step. When I store the contents of this course, I simply upload the original working document (.odt), with the resulting other file formats. The same would apply if you were creating material for a platform like iTunesU. You need to create an .mp3 (audio file) or .mp4 (video file) to upload, so it isn’t extra work to provide a link to the source file for others.
Check back over the Comments section now and see if you can spot any trends in the file formats most often used. Do they help with OEP?
The Selfish Giant, and higher education
For those of you unfamiliar with the Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant‘, here’s the link to a Public Domain version that you can read now. Go on, this is an online course, so I’ll still be here when you get back.
The Selfish Giant’s Walled Garden is a place of beauty, but for it to be enjoyed by more than himself, the children need to circumvent the security and essentially break in. At the risk of labouring the analogy, university repositories are the same way – lots of brilliant material is locked away with no access unless you’re either part of the staff or doing something illegal.
Due to Federal Government funding arrangements, taxpayers money was spent on repositories with the mandate to open up research to society in general. Whilst the repository movement has caught on strongly in learning and teaching, the sharing notion has not. I’d be interested to know if your institution has an open repository for educational resources, not just research.
Furthermore, many of the initial projects in OER (and some more recent ones) have been focused on building new repositories; which is counter-intuitive in light of the research. One of the key barriers to adopting OER has been that there is no ‘one central location to find them’, so obviously building another repository is the answer to that barrier?
Align that with the funding that institutions allocate to their repositories. The technical infrastructure, security, staffing, training, and the like are all expensive budget lines for a university, so I’ll suggest a challenging alternative.
Learning Activity 8: Opening the gate to the walled garden
Let’s use some hypothetical figures for our case, and say that the total real cost of running an institutional repository is $200,000 per annum. In this case, the university manages the infrastructure, security, technical support, professional learning to use the systems, upgrades, and of course staff. Even if their repository is open, potential users need to know about it in order to search.
What if a different business model existed? Find an existing, robust, supported repository (like the OER Commons) that has global contributions, and an on-site authoring tool that automates licencing based on your choices. Instead of the institutional repository, have staff store all resources at the OER Commons. Now, as the ‘common good’ is at the heart of OEP, the institution pays $100,000 per annum as a ‘gift’ to the OER Commons, contributing to a centralised ‘common good’.
If you wanted to take it one step further, it could become institutional practice to search the open repository first for material to (re)use or revise before authoring or purchasing original content – which includes textbooks. This would be a significant change in culture, and may have long-term value for the university.
The questions are:
(1) Would there be any merit in pursuing this sort of business model?
(2) What are the major challenges in adopting a model like this?
Preparing for tomorrow
This represents a very different way of thinking about not only how we go about ‘the business of education’, but also the value and mission of the university. As you can see, OEP extends beyond just the practitioner, potentially influencing every level and operation of university that would like to claim to be ‘a truly open university’.
This foreshadows tomorrow heavily, but there is a blend of reconceptualisation, and ‘nothing new’ in openness; the value is finding the right blend, and – we have mentioned before – honouring context.
It’s been a great experience spending the week with you all; let’s see what the discussion brings today.
The text of this work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. All images and videos retain their respective licences.