OpenEd 2011 Recap

Most of the Open.Michigan team got to attend this year’s OpenEd conference in lovely Park City, Utah. The conference gave our team a convenient deadline for releasing some of the work we’ve been doing on our badges project and to discuss this with our community of creators, sharers, and open facilitators across the world. You can watch our presentation, review our presentation slides and check out the project’s background info all online.

It was also a chance to reflect on the state of open education more generally and at the University of Michigan. We’re lucky to be housed in the Med School with a bunch of smart, innovative folks, who help us blend thinking and doing in ways like the badges project. Here’s a snapshot from each of us about the conference and our own takeaways.

Pieter’s impressions

Rather than give a full run-down of the conference, I’ll talk about a particular person and project that stimulated me: Jim Groom and the ds106 course.

The link to Jim above details a lot of his keynote and I encourage you to also watch it on YouTube. Jim’s main point, “open education is not a resource, it’s an experience,” brought to center the importance of designing for authentic educational experiences, but more importantly, understanding that openness is a platform for unpredictable interactions and experiences that cannot always be controlled. A lot of effort, especially today, is put into measuring and analyzing learning. While this is critical to helping us synthesize knowledge on learning processes and environments, we, as educators and technologists, should be careful not to assume that good learning only happens if we can measure it. And similar to the measurement problem in quantum physics, our measurements of a learning environment alter that environment and the learning that occurs there. We are not neutral and isolated observers; we constrain the environment to reduce uncertainty, but those constraints have an impact on the subjects and the processes we intend to improve.  Therefore we must be cognizant of the effect we have and where we need to create constraints, they should be meaningfully designed.

And thinking beyond measurement, what does openness afford us in terms of reduced constraints? What is the effect on learning systems when certain barriers, such as time and space, are removed, feedback loops are improved, and learners are focused on the experiences rather than the outcomes? How can we enable those systems through technology? I have asked Siri these questions but she only replied with “We were talking about you, not me.” I’ll keep searching…

Emily’s account

I came away from OpenEd 2011 with a renewed sense of commitment to serving our community. Maybe it was because Piet and I spent hours prepping for our presentation and discussing the last 1.5 years of research, thinking and goals for supporting our campus. Maybe it was because I was exposed to some pretty cool examples of experiential learning from Jim Groom, PBS NewsHour, Vital Signs, P2PU and the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD. These organizations and initiatives are actively engaged in teaching practices, not just supporting others who teach or focusing on resource production. For these organizations, it’s about creating an experience of learning for participants, and fostering open practices along the way. In our open education world, it is easy to focus on building tools, on finding funding and on supporting policy and technical infrastructure. These are important facets of the movement that will help ensure the adoption of these practices at an institutional level.

The hard part of our work often lies in figuring out how to integrate these support activities into the learning experience for our local education communities, making it easier and more efficient to share well in the process of teaching. As I think about all the folks who come to conferences like OpenEd, I am amazed at the representation of skills, discipline and motivation. Yet often we discuss open education in general terms, making it hard to scope discipline-specific needs and interests in a way that is tangible for all participants. What makes health sciences OER effective? What makes writing open teaching practices effective? Rather than trying to develop the entire package (complete with modularizable, pedagogically-sound, assessment ready, adaptable, high quality open educational content) and present it to those who may be using it, we must remember to continually engage our communities, experiment with them, facilitate conversations, and get to know their needs and interests. This was echoed in many of the keynotes including Jim Shelton‘s (step four: create better context for OER use), Philipp Schmidt‘s (empowerment is personal), and Cable Green‘s (‘open’ is not about forcing folks to do something). I encountered it as I talked to folks in the hallways, at dinner and on Twitter. As I get back into my work routine this week, I’m trying to take these lessons back into the field with me.

Dave’s take

I have an eye toward tech and was impressed by some projects showcased at the conference. The FinalsClub app is a mashup of  Etherpad and The app is a super slick collaborative note-taking tool that allows students (or any group attending a presentation) to collectively capture notes, questions, and comments together. There is also a system for voting on questions and comments, providing students with an opportunity to float the best/most relevant questions and comments to the top of the list. is sort of a controversial site Andrew Magliozzi co-created with the founder of Lectureleaks is a place for students to upload audio recordings from their classes. Anyone can upload a recording, and Lectureleaks already has over 250 lectures and an avg 1,000 users per month.

ARIS – From their website “ARIS is a user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games, tours and interactive stories. Using GPS and QR Codes, ARIS players experience a hybrid world of virtual interactive characters, items, and media placed in physical space.” The developers presentation can be viewed here. The developers of this app said that a major benefit of ARIS, to a group like Open.Michigan, could be to use it as a platform to quickly build working concepts of mobile apps, walking tour apps and augmented reality games.Demand for student created journals. During the OJS session, it is mentioned that download numbers from one student created journal =161,800 downloads, with 16 student articles that have been downloaded more than 2,500 times, and 68 articles over 1,000 times. A great regional example of a project that uses the Open Journal System is Michigan State University’s Basic Biotechnology eJournal though it isn’t student-generated.