Building a strong foundation for open practices

I was fortunate to attend this year’s Big Ideas Fest, held in Half Moon Bay, California. While I attended last year’s Big Ideas Fest (BIF), this year’s was particularly relevant to our work here at Open.Michigan. A primary feature of the Big Ideas Fest each year is the action collab, where participants are grouped together to discuss and jam on design challenges. One of the challenges at BIF2011 was “How might we leverage open (content, data, and research) to transform teaching and learning?” I was particularly interested in learning about practitioner’s perspectives on ‘open’ and how they see open as being used in educational practices at every level. ISKME is particularly adept at incorporating participants from high school students to funders and everything in between to the conversations and activities at Big Ideas Fest.

Our group consisted of representatives from the Learning Registry project, the Open High School of Utah, the California Academy of Sciences, as well as teachers and students in high schools and elementary schools across the country. Folks in our action collab were most interested in using open content to facilitate their own work. It goes back to our desire at Open.Michigan to help people share well. Just what that means and how to facilitate it is hard to grasp, but we know that folks are more interested in the sharing part, than the legal or technical part. It means that those of us working in education have the deep challenge of making this stuff look easy (figuring out the legal and technical part while addressing the dynamic needs of our community).

While the OER practitioners in the room wanted to focus on access, organization, and metadata, the teachers and learners in the room wanted to focus on search, making it easy to find open materials that are most relevant to specific interests, desires, and circumstances of teachers and learners alike. With Pandora, Amazon, and Google all targeting their services, products and content to us as individuals, it’s not surprising that folks are starting to expect similar experiences when they search for content to suit their educational needs. These features beg a larger question about personal data that I won’t delve into now, but in our conversations what folks were interested in at BIF is the experience of a responsive system tailored to educational interests and needs.

Everyone in the room was in agreement, however, that the learning experience is expanding vastly beyond the formal system and that teachers and institutions must start thinking about facilitating lifelong and life-wide learning. Boundaries between levels, grades and subjects are breaking down as models of collaboration and blended learning start to become standard inside and outside of the classroom. We discussed the need to support peer teaching, goal-based learning, and participatory learning and saw some inspiring examples of how DIY, sharing, and hands-on can be combined to teach anyone anywhere about electronics (Squishy Circuits). Issues of maintaining access to resources using digital technology are very important, especially as rules and policies are being rewritten by government and institutions alike. Barbara Chow spoke at BIF about the importance of developing policy and infrastructure that support open practices, and that is our challenge as facilitators of open. How do we support the infrastructure that makes sharing easy, at the local, national, and international levels? How do we make learning and teaching easy (and legal) to do in public settings?

It was inspiring and challenging to hear what the teaching and learning community wants and needs out of open education initiatives like ours. I’m hopeful that efforts like the Learning Registry, Achieve’s OER rubric, AcrossWorld Education, and the Open High School model will start to coalesce to support the policy and infrastructure needed to share well. These activities may help to start shifting the process of finding, using, and creating open content into mainstream education. The facets of developing content and systems that support powerful searching and packaging of content in useful ways (modularity is key), supporting collaborative non-hierarchical learning, and supporting teacher development (as teachers develop digital literacies alongside their students, start to teach across disciplines, and in public spaces) all must be taken into consideration when developing open education practices.

Highlighting Students' Work on Open.Michigan

Open.Michigan loves working with students. After all, Open.Michigan was born out of a collaboration between students, faculty, and administrators. And, to this day, relies heavily on student volunteers (dScribes) and faculty members working together to open up course content.

However, student volunteers and dScribes are only a part of the story. There are also students who choose to openly license and share their own work, such as their presentations, papers, notes and research. We are all too happy to include this work within the collection, and truly appreciate those who wish to contribute it. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the U-M student produced work on Open.Michigan.

University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) students have been sharing class notes with one another for years. So we were thrilled when some of the student authors decided to openly license and share their UMMS notes on our site. Currently, we have just over 180 resources from these authors published within the UMMS OER collection. There is much more left to publish, but in the mean time, here are several examples of how the notes fit into the Open.Michigan collection:

M1 Gastrointestinal / Liver Student Notes

M2 Endocrine Student Notes

School of Information (SI) students are known to embrace sharing information openly and freely. In fact, many current and former dScribes are from SI. So it should come as no surprise that many great examples of student contributed presentations and papers can be found within the SI OER collection. Here are a few of my favorites, but if you look around, you will find many more:

SI 550 Student Papers & Presentations

SI 507 Student Papers

Several students from the School of Public Health created and shared a Student Handbook for Global Engagement. This handbook is designed to “offer a roadmap for planning projects abroad” by giving advice on logistics, financing, safety, ethics, and sustainability. What an excellent resource for other global go-getters!

We also have Open.Michigan, OER, and open education inspired student and course-sponsored projects from the Business School, Law School, and again from the School of Information available on our projects page.

And we can’t forget about our undergrads. Chemical Engineering students from CHE 466 both created and used an open textbook for the course. Working on the Michigan Chemical Engineering Process Dynamics and Controls Open Textbook is a class requirement, and the result is a very comprehensive and ever evolving openly licensed work.

Publishing the student works alongside faculty members’ content provides a more complete picture of the teaching and learning that takes place at the University of Michigan. If we only publish faculty materials, then we’re only showcasing one side of the story.  As one might expect, students also participate in the teaching and learning process, and they produce all kinds of materials in their attempt to understand what is being taught in the classroom. These materials show us a glimpse of how students capture, internalize, expand, and build upon the ideas and material that is presented to them in the classroom. Students who share their work give everyone an excellent opportunity to learn more about learning.