Institute of Educational Technology
Our institutional research database, Open Research Online (ORO), has just released figures on the downloads for individual researchers.
The image shows my figures to date.
It is interesting to see how these compare with the citation figures that appear in Google Scholar.
For example, my thesis – The Construction of Shared Knowledge through Asynchronous Dialogue – has been cited twelve times to date, according to Google Scholar. Yet it has been downloaded 680 times from ORO, meaning that its reach is greater than the citations might indicate.
That figure also shows that uploading theses hugely increases their accessibility. I have ordered paper versions of theses and have found that they have only been signed out on two or three occasions – now they are much more easily discoverable, citable and applicable.
A beautiful poem from my sister-in-law about her autistic son. I read it with a smile because I know and love him!
Originally posted on The ramblings of gingergnome:Well, it’s nearly ten months since I last posted. There is a reason for that.
In June 2013 the husband of a very good friend of mine passed away. My friend and her husband have been a huge support to me over the years and I truly value their friendship and interest in my adventures.
This gentleman was a journalist and, at times, had tried to encourage me into journalism but I resisted believing that this was not the right path for my life. Therefore, as a tribute I decided to fulfil a secretly held desire to write creatively and last October I began a Creative Writing course with the Open Univserity.
The course hasn’t been easy and, at times, it’s been totally discouraging but I am now halfway through and considering signing up for Advanced Creative Writing in October (eek!). I’m hesitant to make my writing public but my latest piece of coursework touched a nerve and I want to share it with you. Whether you like this or not is entirely up to you … but I wrote this from my heart about one of my precious boys. So, here goes …
From 20-22 January, I was in Brussels for the kick-off meeting of the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE).
The LACE project brings together existing key European players in the field of learning analytics and educational data mining (EDM), who are committed to build communities of practice and share emerging best practice in order to make progress towards four objectives:
1. Promote knowledge creation and exchange
2. Increase the evidence base
3. Contribute to the definition of future directions
4. Build consensus on interoperability and data sharing
This will involve organising a range of activities designed to integrate people carrying out or making use of learning analytics and ED research and development. LACE will also develop an ‘evidence hub’ that will bring together a knowledge base of evidence in the field. Members will also explore plausible futures for the field.
Open Universiteit Nederland, Netherlands
Cetis, the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards at the University of Bolton, UK
The Open University, UK
Infinity Technology Solutions, Italy
Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for Education, Sweden
Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus, Norway
ATiT, Audiovisual Technologies, Informatics and Telecommunications, Belgium
EDEN, the European Distance Education Network, Hungary
Finally published online in Technology, Pedagogy and Education is our article on informal learning at primary school level. The research study focused on two groups of self-motivated learners, including one set who had set up their own Scratch programming club, and another group who belonged to a lunchtime robot-building club run by a parent.
The creative approaches to informal learning that these pre-teens used when working with new technology at home, contrasted with the approaches that they were able to use within school. Their strategies of using different devices, collaborating with others both face-to-face and electronically, and consulting a range of websites were all constrained in school settings. Other constraints were associated with their age – for example, their lack of access to credit cards made online purchases a complicated procedure, and many of their decisions about use of technology were related to a lack of money to spend. They were also limited by parental constraints and legal constraints to a much greater extent than children only a few years older.
While other studies have focused on differences in use of technology for learning at age 11, when children move from primary to secondary school, this study suggests that a more significant shift in use of technology for learning takes place at age 13.
Ferguson, Rebecca; Faulkner, Dorothy; Whitelock, Denise and Sheehy, Kieron (2014). Pre-teens’ informal learning with ICT and Web 2.0. Technology, Pedagogy and Education http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1475939X.2013.870596#.UtWYzmTuKjE
ICT and Web 2.0 have the potential to impact on learning by supporting enquiry, new literacies, collaboration and publication. Restrictions on the use of these tools within schools, primarily due to concerns about discipline and child safety, make it difficult to make full use of this potential in formal educational settings. Studies of children at different stages of schooling have highlighted a wider range of ICT use outside school, where it can be used to support informal learning. The study reported here looks beyond the broad categories of primary and secondary education and investigates the distinctive elements of pre-teens’ use of ICT to support informal learning. Nineteen children aged 10 and 11 participated in focus groups and produced visual representations of ICT and Web 2.0 resources they used to support their informal learning. Thematic analysis of this data showed that pre-teens respond to a range of age-related constraints on their use of ICT. Inside formal education, these constraints appear similar at primary and secondary levels. Out of school, regulation is more age specific, contributing to the development of tensions around use of ICT as children approach their teenage years. These tensions and constraints shape the ways in which children aged 10 to 11 engage in formal and informal learning, particularly their methods of communication and their pressing need to develop evaluation skills.
January 8-10, I was in Boston, where I represented The Open University and FutureLearn at a ‘design charette’ on motivation in online learning networks. This event was hosted by the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with PERTS at Stanford University and the Raikes Foundation.
I haven’t attended a design charette before – these events are intensive, hands-on workshops that bring people from different disciplines and backgrounds together to explore the design of something (in this case online learning networks and, more specifically, MOOCs). The aim is to identify the visions, values, and ideas of the relevant community, allowing community members to collaborate to create innovative solutions.
I enjoyed my first experience of speedgeeking – individuals sit in different areas of the room, and talk to three or four people for a few minutes. On the signal, each group moves on to the next presenter. In 45 minutes, it’s therefore possible to hear a brief presentation from, and ask questions of, around ten presenters. This is a fairly intense experience for the presenters, cramming everything they want to say in a kind of extended elevator pitch, and repeating ten times. A downside is that the presenters don’t get to hear each other – but overall the format allows for a lot of introductions to be made, and gives you the chance to cover a lot of ground very quickly
When we released CloudEngine as free/open source software, we followed what is fairly standard practice in some parts of the open source Community. We added a contributor license agreement (CLA) – some terms that we wanted anyone who was going to contribute to the project to agree to. This is the CloudEngine CLA (the page is a bit broken now, but please scroll down – it gives you the idea).
At the time I thought nothing of this, but recently I’ve been reading about the problems around CLAs. This presentation from a (the lead?) developer Michael Meeks on the Libre Office project is illuminating – they don’t use CLAs. Also, this article Desktop Summit: Copyright assignments, by Jake Edge
There are arguments for and against. This StackExchange thread is good, particularly the point “The FSF assignment grants… it places constraints upon the FSF…” by Alan Shutko,
The arguments against boil down to the body to whom copyright is assigned (The OU in the case of CloudEngine) having greater privileges to use the software than anyone else, including the right to re-license under different terms. The perception of a lack of parity may prevent people contributing (I’m not saying this is the reason we haven’t had contributions to CloudEngine. However, it may be a factor).
This presentation on Contribution Policies for Open Source Projects, by Richard Fontana/ Redhat provides a good summary.
So in summary, I would think very hard before using a CLA on a project now. It may, just may be possible to use the “inbound” license (the CLA) to grant rights and responsibilities fairly to the assignee and the assignor.
I think this is a Free Software Foundation (FSF) assignment, which aims to do just that.
But does it “impose a barrier to entry”?
John, Leslie K. and Acquisti, Alessandro and Loewenstein, George, The Best of Strangers: Context Dependent Willingness to Divulge Personal Information (July 6, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1430482 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1430482
Instead, Meeks suggests having a "Contributor Agreement", which says "Inbound = Outbound" licenses. See, http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Legal:Revised_Fedora_CLA_Draft#FPCA_Text
As an aside, here’s a good introductory presentation on “Open Freedoms/ Open Practices” by Paul Stacey.
I’ve just a quick look at my author report from the ORO repository of research published by members of The Open University. I’m quite surprised to learn that I’ve accrued almost 1,300 downloads of materials I have archived here!
An up to date account of my ORO analytics can be found at http://oro.open.ac.uk/cgi/stats/report/authors/31087069bed3e4363443db857ead0546/. I suppose a 50% strike rate for open access publication ain’t bad… but there is probably room for improvement…
Mike Caulfield has a post on how automation of middle-class jobs, increases competition for poory paid job, which removes the incentive to innovate in technology for those jobs. It made me think how many postgrads going into an academic career now don't really expect it to be well paid, or secure. They approach higher education career with a very different mindset than I did. When I came into academia it was with the hope of getting the "cushiest job on the planet". Professors used to be part of the prosperous middle class, now they hover just above the precariat.
This chimed with another thought I'd had which was that for my daughter she has mostly only ever known living in a post-financial crisis world. She was born before 2008, but most of her formative memories will be of the age of austerity. Going on the principle that a bad naming idea worked once, so why not try it again, we could label her and her generation "austerity natives".
What will be the attitude of austerity natives to money and government? There was a report out today about teenagers in the UK (basically, they're a lot nicer and care more than the media give them credit for). But what of the generation after, and specifically their relationship to money and economics? Will they be fearful of credit, having seen the damage it caused? Will they be like children who were brought up in a strict household who go a bit wild when they are suddenly let loose at uni? They may have a frivolous attitude to money, because hey, it's all screwed up anyway. I suspect there is an interesting longitudinal study in there somewhere...
Today I have been writing a contribution for a paper requested by the Open University’s Ethics Committee about ethics in Learning Analytics. This blog post is adapted from that.
There are two broad use case scenarios where learning analytics approaches may benefit disabled students:
As far as we are aware these approaches are yet to be deployed anywhere world-wide but we are actively researching them here at the Open University where we have approximately 20,000 disabled students. We envisage that if the early promise of this research holds up, deployment on about a 3 year horizon. These approaches, especially the accessibility one, are reported in more detail in Section 5. of Cooper et. al. 2012.
Firstly, a few definitions:
IMS Global Learning Consortium offered education-specific definitions of both disability and accessibility when introducing its work on the development of technical standards for accessibility in e-learning:
[…] the term disability has been re-defined as a mismatch between the needs of the learner and the education offered. It is therefore not a personal trait but an artifact of the relationship between the learner and the learning environment or education delivery. Accessibility, given this re-definition, is the ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners. Accessibility is determined by the flexibility of the education environment (with respect to presentation, control methods, access modality, and learner supports) and the availability of adequate alternative-but-equivalent content and activities. The needs and preferences of a user may arise from the context or environment the user is in, the tools available (e.g., mobile devices, assistive technologies such as Braille devices, voice recognition systems, or alternative keyboards, etc.), their background, or a disability in the traditional sense. Accessible systems adjust the user interface of the learning environment, locate needed resources and adjust the properties of the resources to match the needs and preferences of the user. (IMS Global 2004)
Thus disability is not an attribute of a person, but an attribute of the relationship between that person and the tools they are using to meet their goals; in this case online learning. And, accessibility is a property of the learning resources that makes is usable by all, including those traditionally labelled as disabled.
The principle ethical dilemma when approaching learning analytics and learners who might experience a disability in the context of online learning is:
No other literature has been found explicitly addressing this issue. So this blog post might represent the first public statement of the problem.
At the Open University students who declare a disability so that they can be provided with support in their studies. This is consistent with the first use case scenario (Support). It is a moot point if it is consistent with the second use case scenario (Accessibility). More critically at this stage of development of these approaches it is not obvious that it is consistent with research into these approaches. Is it ethical to use historic or current data relating to students with disabilities to undertake research into future approaches of applying learning analytics?References
Cooper, M,Sloan, D., Kelly, B., and Laithwaite, S. (2012) A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First, Proc. W4A2012, April 16-17, 2012, Lyon, France. Co-Located with the 21st International World Wide Web Conference.
IMS Global Learning Consortium (2004), IMS AccessForAll Meta-data Overview. Available online at: http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility/accmdv1p0/imsaccmd_oviewv1p0.html (accessed 17/02/14)
[The following is an adapted extract from the upcoming Battle for Open book, which I'm bouncing off you lot first].
I am not by nature an overtly political person, in that I don't interpret everything through a political lens. So, rather like Clay Shirky and higher ed, writing on politics is not my strongest point. Which is by way of saying, sorry of what follows is a bit rubbish.
I often avoid given a tight definition of open education, because I want to admit degree and variation in practice. Whilst some areas, such as OERs, have a very clear definition, others such as open scholarship, represent more of a general approach and set of beliefs. Finding one definition would exclude some elements of the open education story that are interesting, hence I prefer to think in terms of a set of coalescing principles. This approach however does allow for a vagueness in the term which potentially renders it meaningless, or subject to abuse.
In his thoughtful critique of open source publisher Tim O’Reilly, Morozov argues that this vagueness around the term has been deliberately constructed by O’Reilly to create good PR:
“Few words in the English language pack as much ambiguity and sexiness as “open.” And after O’Reilly’s bombastic interventions—“Open allows experimentation. Open encourages competition. Open wins,” he once proclaimed in an essay—its luster has only intensified. Profiting from the term’s ambiguity, O’Reilly and his collaborators likened the “openness” of open source software to the “openness” of the academic enterprise, markets, and free speech. “Open” thus could mean virtually anything.”
For Morozov, O’Reilly’s co-option of the term allowed him to ally it to economics, which the market found more palatable, allowing O’Reilly and many in the software movement to “look political while advancing an agenda that had very little to do with politics”. Openwashing suggests that there is market capital now in proclaiming open credentials, and ambiguity around the term facilitates this.
Stephen posted a piece last week about the OU, history and MOOCs (we had a bit of a misunderstanding about it), which highlights that history has political connotations. Many accounts of open education usually have one of two starting points. The first is the founding of the Open University, for instance Andy Lane contends that “The discourse around the role of openness in higher education can be said to have seriously started with the inception of the United Kingdom Open University (UKOU) in 1969”. The second, alternative, starting point for history is that of the open source movement, which is what Wiley & Gurell use, while admitting that “Histories are difficult to write for many reasons. One reason is the difficulty of determining where to begin telling the story – for there is never a true starting point to a tale woven of people, events and ideas.” The choice of starting point will have an influence on the type of interpretation of open education put forward: the OU based one may suggest a university and student focused approach, whereas the open source one might indicate a more technological and license driven perspective.
Peter and Diemann propose a longer historical perspective, highlighting aspects of open education in the Middle ages with the founding of universities which “contained in them the idea of openness, albeit by no means comprehensive. This period highlights “open” as learner driven, resting on a growing curiosity and increasing awareness of educational opportunities.” Open education can be traced through the 17th Century with coffee-houses and then into the industrial revolution with schools and working clubs. Their overview of this broader history of openness is shown below:
A history of Openness From Peter, S., & Deimann, M. (2013). On the role of openness in education: A historical reconstruction. Open Praxis, 5(1), 7-14. ) released under a CC-By license
This longer historical perspective has some illuminating lessons for the current debate. The authors conclude that “Historical forms of openness caution us against assuming that particular configurations will prevail, or that social aspects should be assumed as desired by default. … After a period of open movements many times there have been slight but important shifts from “pure” openness towards “pretended” openness, i.e. some aspects have been modified to offer more control for producers and other stakeholders.”
This illustrates that openness has always been perceived as problematic, and one of its principle difficulties is that it operates against an individual’s, and more significantly, an organisation’s need to control. And to return to my original subject, where there are issues of control then there is undoubtedly a political aspect. Peters and Britez are blunt about this in their book on open education, opening with the statement “Open education involves a commitment to openness and is therefore inevitably a political and social project.” It is possible to argue, as the open source community do, that openness is simply the most efficient way to operate, and there is some truth in that, for instance the argument for learning objects and OERs makes this case. But even if that is so, a degree of politics follows. This can be a set of assumed beliefs, in democracy, altruism, sharing, and a general liberal perspective for instance, or more directly, it can be political lobbying, for instance to introduce open textbooks into a country or a region.
There have been explicitly political criticisms of aspects of open education. For instance MOOCs have been seen as exploiting academic labour, and of having a neoliberal agenda. The Silicon Valley narrative can itself been seen as embodying a form of neoliberal capitalism, and so there should be no surprise that MOOCs can be seen from the same perspective. For others, the open education movement is not being radical enough in its reconceptualization of the role of universities. Joss Winn asks “Is Open Education being used as a method of compensating for a decline in the welfare state? Is government advocacy of OER a way of tackling resource scarcity in an expanding system of higher education?” Winn and others favour a more social interpretation of openness, which draws on some of the historical trends mentioned above, as well as the strong ethical basis of Stallman’s free software movement. In this interpretation, open education leads to a cooperative university which is “a free association of people who come together to collectively produce knowledge. It is also a political project.”
Even if one ignores such politically explicit aspects of open education there is an unintentional (or maybe intentional) form of cultural imperialism associated with exporting the open education beliefs which are inextricably aligned with open education resources. Dave Cormier suggests that OER can be viewed as a means of exporting an educational model. The power of an global institutional brand, such as MIT, combined with free (as in cost), makes it difficult for local providers to compete, both in terms of cost and voice. As Dave puts it “How are local professors, debating the relative value of their curriculum against the standardizing power of a major university, going to be able to forward their own ideas?”
So even in our definition of open education (or lack of one), our history and practice, there are political dimensions. When it was just straightforward open vs closed the fine differences between these perspectives may not have mattered, but if I had to make a prediction, I'd say that we will see more explicitly political arguments about the direction of open education over the next decade.
Some of you will have seen a report about a survey conducted on the use of Open Course Library (OCL) free, open textbooks. The findings were that use was "extremely limited". Over the 42 courses that could use the textbooks, this amounted to 98,130 possible students, but only 2,386 did, some 2.4%. All that is rather disappointing to say the least, and it left me a little puzzled. Why would uptake be so low? Given the question "do you want to buy this $100 textbook or have this free one?" one might expect more than 2.4% to go for free.
Tony Bates posted a very good response to it which captured much of my feelings. The survey itself raised a number of questions he suggests:
Let us for now, accept that the survey is a true reflection of the state of uptake (although I agree with Tony, using stores as a measure seems an odd way to approach it). This raises other questions about OER adoption. Simply existing is not sufficient for a number of reasons:
What this mostly comes down to is awareness. Given time enough students may pass around knowledge about this material, but to really make an impact OERs have to be competing with large marketing budgets. This represents the next phase in this particular battle for open I would suggest. Having created the content, getting into the system is now the challenge.
Here at eLearning 2014 Fred Lokken of Truckee Meadows Community College presented the results of the most recent ITC survey into distance education. This is the 10th annual edition of the survey, which is the the primary college-focused distance education survey. The results are sent to all college presidents as well as to key media outlets. The survey takes place in Autumn/Fall each year, and is sent electronically. The 2013 survey saw 140 complete responses and statistical accuracy was reported at +/-4%.
Fred claims that it was around the 7th year of the survey (2011) that distance learning began to be recognised by the government as equivalent to classroom education in terms of quality of materials and instruction. He pointed out that online education has overcome many barriers in a short space of time, instigating a paradigm shift that has yet to be fully understood.
The majority of community colleges manage their distance learning operations through a mix of centralised and decentralised administration.
Online enrolment is up while overall enrolment is marginally down. This is a trend seen consistently over the life of the survey and across a range of institutions. (40% attributed this to the downturn in the economy.) Web-facilitated classes and blended classes are on the increase.
Here are the challenges that distance education administrators see as the most pressing:
After a period of some turbulence, most institutions have settled on a fixed LMS, with only 27% saying that they were considering switching their LMS in the next year.
OER was the main change since previous surveys, with 45% predicting significant OER impact on their campus in the next 3-5 years. Half (50%) thought OER would have very little impact but only 3% thought there would be no impact. Here are the challenges that were identified as barriers to institutional adoption of OER.
Subject to funding and acceptance by the programme committee I am hoping to attend LASI2014 and present on Learning Analytics to Support Disabled Students.
See on www.solaresearch.org
See on Scoop.it – Learner Analytics and Accessibility for Disabled Students
Esupapereo, Paris, B, 7 February 2014
Martyn Cooper‘s insight:
A good general Learning Analytics presentation from Erik Duval.
See on www.slideshare.net
I gave myself a smartphone for Christmas. I thought the slow season and the long rainy nights would give me an opportunity to get friendly with it. With the help of a ‘Missing Manual’, the smartphone and I are getting along well. But all is not as positive as it should be. I hadn’t realised that I had not only bought a nice device I was buying into an increasingly expensive relationship with the networked world than I had previously
A minor issue is that I now have drawers of incompatible power cables and I am not confident about which I can throw away. Nothing is compatible with anything else, or therefore interchangeable. I can also buy nice covers for my devices – which are also not compatible since not one is the same size.
The major issue is the significant the cost of using all my devices. My old phone with its ‘pay as you go’ contract actually did what was necessary as far as phone calls and texts were concerned. My new phone with its monthly contract for limited calls and unlimited data is costing me 3 times as much and is the same monthly charge as my water and sewerage. If I add to that the costs of my fast broadband provision, then my monthly cost to be part of the internet world is quite significant.
It would be nice if these costs were offset by the reduced the cost of doing things via the internet– but mainly it isn’t – in fact it is often more expensive to engage in a transaction via the internet than physically. I now have a parking app on my new phone so I don’t need to keep so many coins in the car to pay for parking. It must be convenient for the car park companies that I transfer money straight from my bank to theirs and they don’t need to send someone to empty a parking meter. But any savings they keep; I pay the same parking fee plus 20p for a text confirming my payment- a text I cannot refuse. I am an avid theatre goer. I tend to make internet ticket bookings, which always have an additional charge for using the internet- sometimes as high as £2.50 per ticket. If I go to the box office I am not asked to contribute to the salary of the person in the box office – but I am always charged for internet ticket booking.
All these costs have crept up over the years, and seem inescapable. In an earlier blog I talked about the economics of free open access content. If a was a conspiracy theorist I might believe that internet, and online apps, companies have a vested interest in increasing the provision of free online content – its availability is what drives consumers to buy new incompatible devices with all their designer (incompatible) accessories, and subscribe to increasingly expensive internet access services.
What do librarians think about OER? If they create OER, do they share it? What awareness is there of CC and open licensing? What challenges do librarians face when using OER? What kind of policies would help librarians be more open?
There are just some of the questions we sought to investigate in a survey of librarians conducted during Autumn 2013. Working with Co-PILOT (Community of Practice for Information Literacy Online Teaching) project members Eleni Zazani (Birkbeck) and Nancy Graham (Roehampton), we launched two questionnaires during Open Access Week at the end of last October. Both surveys closed 2 January 2014 and were identical in content (the only difference being that one version mentioned Co-PILOT explicitly in the opening text and title). A big thanks to all those who either tweeted, blogged or promoted the surveys and, of course, a massive thanks to those who participated.
A total of 312 people responded to both questionnaires, with 219 respondents working full- or part-time as a librarian. These respondents are the focus of the following preliminary analysis. Although 82.4% of respondents came from either the US or UK (n=178), the remaining 17.6% of contributions came from a range of countries including Italy, Tanzania, Ghana and Lebanon (n=38). 81.1% of respondents were female (n=176) and 89.4% of respondents have English as their first language (n=194). 87.4% of librarians also reported having a postgraduate/graduate school degree as their highest qualification (n=188) whilst over a quarter of respondents (25.6%) reported having been a librarian for 20 years or more (n=51).
We asked respondents about the different ways that they access the Internet. 98.2% of librarians reported that they do so at work (n=214), with 89.9% accessing the internet at home using broadband (n=196) and 75.2% of respondents accessing the internet via their smartphone (n=164). The least popular ways of accessing the Internet were via a games console (5.0%, n=11) or at home using a dial-up connection (5.0%, n=11).
Over half of respondents reported publishing a blog post (50.7%, n=111) or posting on a microblogging site, for example Twitter or Tumblr (56.2%, 123) in the past year. 84.9% reported contributing to a social network (n=186) in the last year. 100% of respondents reported using word processing software (n=219) in the last 12 months whilst only 8.2% have recorded and uploaded a podcast (n=18) during this period. 10.0% of respondents have downloaded a file using a torrent client (n=22) during the last year.
The top three types of OER used for teaching/training purposes by librarians were images (77.7%, n=129), videos (58.4%, n=97) and E-books (42.8%, n=71).
We asked respondents what kind of purposes they used OER for, within the context of their role as librarian. The most popular response (73.5% of librarians) was that OER was used to help find available content for learning, teaching and training (n=125). 72.9% of respondents reported using OER within the context of their role as librarian for getting new ideas and inspiration (n=124) whilst the next popular response was that OER was used to enhance professional development (n=95). Of note is that the least popular response to this question was using OER to give to learners as compulsory self-study materials (8.8%, n=15). This contrasts with 39.4% of librarians having given learners OER as optional self-study materials (n=67) and 37.1% as e-learning to online learners (n=63). Unfortunately, from this survey, we don’t know who is making the decision about compulsory/optional materials or what context librarians are suggesting OER as optional resources to students in (e.g. are OER listed as compulsory/optional study materials by educators or are librarians selecting and advising on suitable OER content themselves?)… It would appear that further research is needed to make sense of these results and the role librarians play in selecting OER for use by students.
The top three challenges most often faced by respondents when using OER were reported as: Knowing where to find resources (60.8%, =n=121), finding resources of sufficiently high quality (59.8%, n=119) and finding suitable resources in their subject area (56.3%, n=112)
Creating and Measuring the Impact of OER
79.5% of respondents have used OER (n=171) whilst 39.5% reported that they had adapted open educational resources to fit their needs (n=85). Whilst 32.1% librarians have created OER for study or teaching (n=69), 14.9% of librarians reported that they had created resources and published them on an open licence (n=32).
Librarians who reported either creating OER for study or teaching, and/or creating and publishing resources on an open license were asked how they share the OER they create and whether they measure its impact. 60.8% of this group of librarians reported that they do not measure the impact of OER they create (n=45). This contrasts with 29.7% of librarians who told us that they do measure impact (n=22) in some way. Of the remaining 9.5% who reported that they didn’t know whether they measured impact (n=7), this appeared in some cases to relate to uncertainty around what constituted “measuring impact” (we did not define this term for respondents). One librarian noted: “Not really – although we do look at how many times the video has been watched.” Another noted “I track the usage of them but this (e.g. downloads) but I don’t think this is an adequate measure of impact. There may be 1,000′s of downloads but who knows whether anyone has looked at them again.” Of those who told us how they measure impact, the majority of respondents use either number of downloads/analytics or user surveys to assess the impact of OER they create.
70.8% of librarians have seen the Creative Commons logo and report knowing what it means (n=155). Elsewhere 69.4% of respondents told us that the reason they select one OER over another was due to the resource having a CC license (n=143) This was the third most popular answer to our question asking respondents what factors make them more likely to select a particular resource when searching for open educational content (the top answer was the resource being created/uploaded by a reputable/trusted institution or person (87.9%, n=181).
More than 10% of respondents thought that open licensing was “of little importance” or “unimportant” when using resources in their teaching (5.7%, n=12 and 6.2%, n=13 respectively) whilst over 60% thought it was either “very important” or “important” (34.3%, n=72 and 37.6%, n=79 respectively). Further analysis is needed to breakdown these findings: as not all librarians are teachers, did those who do not teach either interpret “teaching” more broadly, or perhaps give less importance to licensing within this context, as it is not important for what they do as a librarian? Moreover, how important do those who have not seen the CC license before (16.9%, n=37) think open licensing is within this context?
Does OER Save Students and Institutions Money?
Interestingly, although there are a growing number of studies which show that use of OER (such as open textbooks) have financial benefits for students, over 50% of librarians told us that they didn’t know whether their students saved money by using OER (50.9%, n=83). Moreover, in contrast to this, over 50% of respondents believe their institution benefits financially from using OER (53.1%, n=85). I will return to analyse the results of these questions in more detail, and compare them with OERRH data on educator perceptions of savings for students and institutions in Part II of this blog post.
Part II’s analysis will be published in Spring 2014 (there are, for example, further questions on the impact of OER on one’s role as librarian and on institutional policy/practice and a range of “open text” questions relating to policy/practice at respondents’ institutions and what respondents think openness means to report on). The survey’s findings will also be the focus of our presentation at OER14 in April. In addition, Nancy will also be presenting some of the findings at this month’s Co-PILOT event in Glasgow. Please join us for these events … or look out for the follow-up post!
One of the common themes you'll see when people complain about rising university costs is the increased cost of administrative staff. This is usually portrayed as simply greed, or laziness on the part of universities, for instance this Wall Street Journal article reports a 37% increase in admin staff from 2001 to 2012. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has little doubt about the lack of value admin staff add, stating: "You can have a university without administrators, but not without students or faculty. The minimization of administrative costs and bureaucracy should be sought in any university reform. A few decades ago, few universities had more than a small centralized public relations staff."
A report detailed in Inside Higher Ed comes to a similar conclusion: "They waste a lot of money on redundant administrative activities and could probably save money in the long run if they made big changes to their structure". And this article suggests that Pennsylvania universities increase in admin spending rose by 53% from 2001 to 2010. And while he doesn't address admin specifically, Clay Shirky tells us that the Golden Age of higher ed is over because it's unaffordable (see David Kernohan's withering response also).
Now, I ought to confess that I'm married to a university administrator, so I may have more than a little bias in my response to this. What most of these articles conclude is that it is simply greed, or unnecessary bureaucracy that has led to this, with of course, the implicit suggestion that if universities were proper businesses they wouldn't put up with it. Now, I get very frustrated with some of the needless layers of process that have been put in place, and often it seems inflexible and all rather pointless, so I'd admit that I'm sure we could do a bit of a streamlining. But between my wife and I we've been through a fair number of these restructurings, as well as seeing other universities do it, and my general impression is that they don't really produce the admin savings people predict.
One of the common complaints is that "we used to be more efficient and not need as many admin staff". The second part of this is true, we didn't need as many admin staff, but that was because the amount of legislation that universities have to respond to was far less. Think of the following areas, all of which affect universities, and ask yourself whether the associated administration related to them has increased or decreased over the past 20 years:
The reason universities have big, complex administration is because they operate in a big, complex world. Probably far more so than most companies who only have a particular focus and are only concerned with legislation that relates to their niche practice. In the 1970s you only needed one administrator in a department because no-one cared about any of this stuff. Now, you'd be shut down, or face criminal charges for failing to respond to it.
As a test of my hypothesis that university administration has increased in complexity, I did a simple bit of research. I went to the legal database Justis.com and searched for legislation that related to universities. Now there are all sorts of problems with this methodology: I didn't analyse each piece, I didn't strip out repeated legislation, I just counted the number of bills. It doesn't include a lot of things that will relate to universities but not mention them specifically, eg health and safety, and it also won't include all the increased administrative overhead that isn't included in a bill, eg increased demands for reporting on EU funded research projects. So it may well be flawed, but as a simple indicator of the increased administrative burden on universities, it should work to give a general feel for the level of change. My hypothesis would predict a substantial increase. I counted the number of bills from 1974 to 1993 and from 1994 to 2013. The results are shown below:
From 1974 to 1993 there were 262 bills, and from 1994 to 2013, 413, an increase of some 58%. Now I did this in 10 minutes and I suspect it's really a two year research project to really underake it (maybe someone has, please let me know), so I'm happy to be corrected, but I think this gives a good general indication. My guess is that it may underplay the real increase in administration since so much else relates to factors apart from legal duty.
The question then is not so much "why do universities spend so much on admin?" but rather "do we want society to make universities spend this much on admin?". And here people can be a bit hypocritical - they will probably say reduce the admin spend, but then demand robust appeals procedures or sue a university for not taking due care. Which of the areas I've outlined above would you personally be willing to take responsibility for if we reduced the legislation on it?
The point is that these are issues beyond universities, society can't place an increasingly complex legislative and administrative burden on universities and then complain that they spend more money on legislative and administrative tasks. If higher education were truly privatised and run by companies as some wish, then maybe some of this cost could be reduced, mainly because government ministers would listen to entrepreneurs who complained that needless bureacracy was impeding profits. I'm not sure that would lead to better education necessarily, but it may be cheaper. But can we please stop with the "bloody admin doesn't add anything" message?
You know when you're doing two completely unrelated things and your brain forces connections that aren't really there? You think it's genius, everyone else thinks it's painfully laboured? This is one of those posts.
So, I've been away for a week in the middle of Bodmin moor writing some chapters for my Battle for Open book. I came away with just my dog and a week's supply of beer. It's amazing what you get done when there is nothing else to distract you. I have written three chapters this week on MOOCs, the silicon valley narrative and open scholarship. I'm not saying they're good, but they are written.
Anyhow, when I can't bring myself to think about open education anymore, I've been reading Claire Tomalin's well written and nicely balanced biography of Dickens. Because there is nothing else in my head but MOOCs n stuff, I've been making tenuous connections, which I may as well share. Three connections have come to mind:
1) Publish as you go - for about a third of my book I've been taking existing blog posts and adapting them. I worry that this is cheating somehow, but I figure I've been writing the stuff as I go, now I'm pulling it together. Can you plagiarise yourself? Anyway, Dickens reminds me there is nothing new in this. He famously published many of his novels as serialisations, which would then be wrapped up. This strikes me as very hard to do, there is no revisiting it and deciding that character needs to live after all. Compared to Dickens I have it easy. But it does illustrate that content can have more than one mode of existence.
2) Copyright wars - Dickens was rather screwed over by international copyright. British copyright didn't extend to the US so publishers there could just take his work and put out books, making huge sums of money (they adored him in the states), which he saw very little of. I think with his money obsessions I'm not sure Dickens would have embraced CC licensing, but I think he would've been a champion of open textbooks in education.
3) Hard work never killed anyone, oh wait - after reading this quote, I will never complain about being over-committed again:
"Dickens was now committed to the following projects: He had to continue Pickwick in monthly instalments for another year; he had to provide a few more pieces for the Sketches; both his farce and his opera were being published and needed seeing through the press; he had promised a children's book, 'Solomon Bell the Raree Showman' by Christmas; he had to start preparing for his editorship of Bentley's Miscellany, which began in January and for which he must commission articles and also contribute a sixteen page piece of his own every month; Chapman & Hall were hoping for a sequel to Pickwick; Macrone still wanted 'Gabriel Vardon'; and Bentley was expecting two novels."
So that's alright then. Of course, Dickens kept up an impossibly punishing schedule all his life and it contributed to his early death. So not one to follow in that respect.
For my book I've been writing about why it was that MOOCs came to such prominence in the popular press in a way that OERs didn't. One key aspect is that they fit the Silicon Valley narrative.
The model of Silicon Valley provides such a powerful narrative that it has come to dominate thinking far beyond that of computing. For instance Staton declares that the degree is doomed because Silicon Valley avoids hiring people with computer science degrees, and prefers those with good community presence on software developer sites. From this he concludes this model is applicable across all domains and vocations. It hardly needs adding that Staton is the CEO of an educational company.
There are several necessary elements to the silicon valley narrative: firstly a technological fix is both possible and in existence; secondly that external forces will change, or disrupt, an existing sector; thirdly that wholesale revolution is required; lastly the solution is provided by commerce.
The education is broken meme satisfies the third condition of the silicon valley narrative. If it is accepted as broken, then only a revolution is sufficient to resolve it. MOOCs appeal to the first and second of these conditions. They are a very technologically driven solution, particularly in their xMOOC instantiation. Thrun famously worked at Google after all. The artificial intelligence promise of adaptive learning systems and sophisticated automatic assessment is both appealing in that it seems futuristic and aligns with the silicon valley technological solution approach.
Although Thrun, Koller and Ng all worked at Stanford, and so could thus be seen as part of the establishment, Thrun in particular has been cast as the education outsider. In order to satisfy this need for an external party coming to the aid of the sector, the Sal Khan has often been proposed as the godfather of MOOCs.
Another important aspect that appeals to silicon valley, entrepreneurs and journalists alike is that of disruption. It is a term that has been applied much more broadly than its original concept, to the point where it almost meaningless, and rarely critically evaluated. Dvorak complains that it is essentially meaningless, stating that “There is no such thing as a disruptive technology. There are inventions and new ideas, many of which fail while others succeed. That's it.” There remains however a disruption obsession inherent in the silicon valley narrative. As Watters argues, disruption has become somewhat akin to a cultural myth amongst silicon valley: “when I say then, that “disruptive innovation” is one of the great myths of the contemporary business world, particularly of the tech industry, I don’t mean by “myth” that Clayton Christensen’s explanation of changes to markets and business models and technologies is a falsehood… my assigning “myth” to “disruptive innovation” is meant to highlight the ways in which this narrative has been widely accepted as unassailably true.”
Nobody wants to just create a useful tool, it has to disrupt an industry. Education, perceived as slow, resistant to change and old-fashioned is seen as ripe for disruption. Christensen, Horn and Johnson themselves have deemed it so, stating that “disruption is a necessary and overdue chapter in our public schools.” Hence the Avalanche report justifies itself by claiming that all of the key “elements of the traditional university are threatened by the coming avalanche. In Clayton Christensen’s terms, universities are ripe for disruption.” In his criticism of the impact of OERs, Kortemeyer states that they “OERs have not noticeably disrupted the traditional business model of higher education”, because for something to be successful, only disruption counts.
We can see many of these elements in essays on MOOCs. Let us take Clay Shirky’s essay “Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken”, as it generated a lot of interest and was considered to be a thoughtful analysis.
In terms of our narrative essentials, Shirky even has the “education is broken” meme in the title of his piece, and later states it boldly: “I have a different answer: School is broken and everyone knows it.” He sets out a reasonably convincing case about the finance issues associated with higher education, although he does not question finance models for higher education in general. Shirky cites a book "Don't go back to school" which interviewed 100 people who had dropped out of school and gone on to be successful. Largely they then self-teach themselves using internet resources, an example of the Silicon Valley model being applied broadly.
In his previous essay, Napster, Udacity and the Academy he compares the impact of MOOCs on higher education with that of the MP3 on the music industry. This conforms to the silicon valley narrative, proposing a revolution and disruption: “Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC)”. It also suggests that the commercial, external provider will be the force of change, stating that “and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup”.
All of the elements can also be seen in Clark’s piece where he declares that (referring to Khan) "It took a hedge fund manager to shake up education because he didn’t have any HE baggage." It appeals to the silicon valley narrative to have a saviour riding in from outside HE to save it. If the influence of those inside higher education such as Wiley, Downes, Siemens, etc is acknowledged then that weakens the appeal of the story.
David Kernohan performed a semantic analysis of eleven popular MOOC articles. Taking Kernohan’s articles to conduct simple word counts, then the word “disrupt” (or derivative) occurred 12 times, “revolution” 16, and “company” 17. Obviously this is a selective choice of terms (“open” appears 48 times for comparison), but the presence of these terms indicates a particular framing of the MOOC story that allies with the silicon valley narrative.
We can now see why MOOCs proved so popular with journalists. Firstly they seem to offer a solution to the education is broken meme, which had been gaining currency. Secondly, they met all the criteria for the silicon valley narrative: they proposed a technological solution, they could be framed as the result of external forces, and they provided a revolutionary model. Nearly all the early MOOC articles framed them as disruptive to the standard higher education model. And they were established as separate companies outside of higher education, thus providing interest around business models and potential profits by disrupting the sector. This heady mix proved too irresistible for many technology or education journalists.
This analysis also reveals why other open education initiatives haven’t garnered as much attention. They often seek to supplement or complement education, thus ruining the education is broken argument. Similarly, they are often conducted by those who work in higher education, which undermines the narrative of external agents promoting change on a sector that is out of touch. And lastly, they are supported by not-for-profit institutions, which does not fit the model of new, disruptive businesses emerging. If one wanted to make an argument for disruption, then open textbooks could make a convincing case, since they undermine an established business with digital, low-cost alternatives, but as projects like OpenStax are not-for-profit, they do not fit the silicon valley narrative as neatly as MOOCs.
One further aspect of the silicon valley and disruption narrative is that it demands a ‘year zero’ mentality. It is a much more convincing story if someone can be said to have invented a new way of working. Because complete genesis invention is rare, most work is tinkering with old ideas and improving them, this often requires either a wilful ignorance of past work, and an imaginative reworking of it.