Drop the 'e' get on with the learning

This year’s OpenCourseWare Consortium meeting was (by necessity, since it was at Queens College in Cambridge) smaller, but more energized. Much of the friendly criticism I had for last year’s meeting was addressed with shorter sessions, more opportunity for discussion and some provocative discussions about how open practices more generally should be examined within the larger context of educational theory. I don’t know that I would quite call it the “revival” that some proclaimed, but there was spirited discussion and even congenial disagreement at the meeting. In the sessions, in the halls, at the dinners–folks were discussing the disjointed nature of some of our efforts (focusing too much on content and not enough on teaching). Other discussions centered around the need to embed open practices into the process of teaching whereby the byproduct is a resource that can be shared and adapted by others in new contexts. The JISC OER panel “Changes and Challenges of Open Practices in the UK: policy directions after three years of HEA/JISC OER programme”) during the first day update included the acknowledgement that today’s universities are almost completely hamstrung by copyright and doing what they do best, mashups.

As many other attendees undoubtedly also noted, there was a convergence of presentations and conversations from a policy-level perspective and the grassroots community-based practice, a sign that I think illustrates the growing maturity of the open education world, one in which OER is not considered a separate practice that must be considered but is interwoven and joined with the pedagogical and contextual needs of classrooms across the globe. We are (as a movement) shifting away from content-focused platforms, resources and courseware to learner-centric strategies that incorporate legal sharing as a starting point for knowledge production and transmission. The open discussion of different viewpoints and definitions are an indication of how professionals in this world are now routinely examining the processes, tools, perspectives and theories we have developed and held so close over the last ten years in a critical, reflexive way. The overall tone of this meeting was much less self-congratulatory and defensive than previous conversations I’ve had in this space.

Different incentives, needs, processes and outputs of open content and practices were identified by a variety of projects and institutions that celebrated their institution’s unique position to create, share, and adapt resources across settings. University of Oxford shares many of their podcasts under a Creative Commons license because these podcasts are designed as a source that can be browsed by students to find their own route through the research field, are born digital, and are a unique contribution Oxford makes to the regional and global scholarship community. University of the Arts London incorporates and shares multimedia resources from the professional arts world as a way to engage with a variety of stakeholder groups and capture expertise outside of the university to incorporate into the classroom. The Orbit project focuses on developing pedagogically sound wiki-based videos and resources for K-12 teachers in Africa to share with each other to strengthen the education sector in Africa.

I was exposed to some exhilarating presentations and I think I missed out on a few as well. Some of my favorite sessions included Blackburn College’s “Creativity 4 Edupunks” approach to supporting Open Educational Practices on their campus, starting with the staff. The approach invites educators to come up with a wish list of content from different disciplines, a hieroglyph of possibilities and to create scenario where students can co-create and bring empowerment back into the learning environment. It acknowledges a very important point in education, in our world we are all teacher-learners on some level or another, constantly teaching and learning how to teach. They seek to empower their community to create and cascade the effects of OER. Staff at Blackburn College have created a learning module that counts toward professional faculty development in their school.”The resource has eight separate ‘OER topics’ that seek to enhance OER literacy amongst Higher Education in Further Education staff and to encourage their involvement in the cycles of use and re-use. The participants who have been given teaching remission are obliged to become OER producers as by the end of the academic year they must produce their own OER and deposit it into Jorum.” As Phil Johnson said in his presentation, “now is the time to drop the e and just call it learning.”

I also learned a lot from Markus Deinmann’s presentation on ‘bildung‘. This is a well-grounded theory that captures the whole human being and while the term education is not an equivalent (bildung is entirely individual) it has now become a label for politics and educational business. Markus’ point is that, while learning and bildung are each radically different, each requires flexibility and reflexivity, a reconstruction of implicit stocks of knowledge and the rules of social behavior. Our goal as open educators and open education researchers is to generate new theories not to test existing ones. Don’t open, participatory learning practices call for a new way of thinking about education, the learner, the teacher and how ideas, knowledge, and innovation are shared across communities?

As Gary Matkin stated in “Beyond Optimism: Why the Future of OER/OCW is Assured:” “imagine a world in which anyone could learn anything anywhere anytime for free.” Really imagine it. What do you see?

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