19 March 2013

Recommendations to La Trobe Uni in its considerations of open education practices

We held a public and open conference on open education last week. One of the sessions at the end of the day was to begin formulating recommendations to La Trobe University. This is a much more complicated task then I first considered. I realise now, my preference to work with the individual staff member up to the executive manager - rather than from the executive down, via policy change and directives.

So in my own suggestions for recommendations, I've included things that ask the executive to look for and acknowledge work that is already taking place, and to resource pilot studies out in the Faculties so we may benefit from each other's more informed positions over time - say 12 - 24 months.

While others are working in a Google Doc, I'm sticking with the wiki, for my part.

15 March 2013

What I've been up to at La Trobe

I've been at La Trobe University for 6 months now.. and things seem to be going ok. As usual I've annoyed a few people and now get the silent treatment, but mostly people are excited and raring to go.

Recently we did something for Open Education Week. A small group of people from different areas across the University managed to pull off what must have been the most open and transparent event La Trobe has ever seen. In the busiest time of the year for teachers, we manage to pack out the space continuously for the entire day. That says a lot for the interest in open education here. But, it was the only Australian event for Open Education Week, which is somewhat concerning.. suggesting to me that while there is interest from staff, central support units are missing it.. again.

My work in the Faculty of Health Sciences is to help teachers and course coordinators imagine, design and implement curriculum and content development. Most of that work can't be shown because university systems preference closed practice. But the open side of the work can be shown, and its the bit I find most rewarding. I'm trying to keep track of the open education work we've been doing in Wikiversity. For example, a team of educational content developers uploaded video on the Wikipedia article for Vertometer. I hope they will review the export quality though. People who work in the disability health sector will soon publish incredibly valuable videos of people living with disabilities, which we hope will demystify their lives some and help improve awareness and the quality of services to them. This team held a forum recently, and the presenters agreed for their recordings to go to Wikiversity.

I find that using Wikiversity helps facilitate a whole range of considerations, from copyright and openness, to audience and communication.. not to mention an awareness of alternative approaches to online education and development. We're having conversations about simple English, the risks and value of transparency, the opportunities in open access, and the principles that might guide us into this way of practice. So far, I couldn't have hoped for a better response.

Using Wikiversity presents a number of challenges though, not simply answered by professional development events, and not limited to the perception of it being an external platform. The university systems are so dense and complex in their own right, that suggesting any change or adaptation is not feasible. Most people simply don't have the time to even learn the existing systems well! Workloads for academic staff are already at maximum, so I can only suggest some things be stopped, and this thing be done instead. Ideally, there would be enough spare time to allow for research and wide ranging professional development, but there simply isn't. Introducing open educational practices in the absence of any system or support for developing that, necessitates an alternative approach.

To address this in a more acceptable way though, I'm continuously looking for ways to reduce busy work. There are atrocious forms upon forms that could be streamlined and improved for example, and simplifying them would free up a small amount of time at particular times in the year. But that's a drop in the ocean of tsunamis pounding academic professions these days.  I estimate 60% of time needs to be freed if we are going to expect teaching academics to make time for research and/or adequate professional development. This is a mountain that some see as impossible!

But in preparation for a miracle, I've been drafting up a professional development program for teachers of health professionals. It is attempting to enable and enhance informal learning, while at the same time setting up more formal channels as well. I'm proposing that badging be trialed, but response has been cool. And I've been using Wikiversity and Wikipedia as development platforms, instead of Word and the Intranet. At some stage we'll have to confront the digital divide this creates.. and I think we'll have to choose between closed and open, and honestly consider the risks and costs of them both.

11 March 2013

Examples of assessment in open education

A few people have pulled together an open conference at La Trobe University, about open education. It is coinciding with Open Education Week. I hope to be able to participate in all the sessions, but I'm definitely giving a talk on assessment in open education, for this and a group called Scholars of Learning and teaching (SoLT).

05 March 2013

MOOCs are a Manufactured Consent

I can't take it any more. All this talk about MOOCs (the simple corporate variety), iTunesU, and the glaring and obvious ignorance of robust and sustainable commons-based projects like Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wikiversity.

The Conversation seems to have captured a very large audience in Australia. Their bi line is "academic rigor, journalistic flare". I see a lot of "flare" to be sure. Rigor and journalism though. Well, they were made extinct in Australia through the 1990s, clinched in 2003.

Dilan Thampapillai has offered his insights on the flaws in copyright governance in the major Corporate MOOCs. It had to be said, I agree. But Dilan makes no mention of the platforms that manage commons-based copyright, and manage it well. He stays with the manufactured consent that MOOCs are a recent phenomenon and that the idea of open education is held to the corporate platforms that have popped up to capitalise. So, while I'm trying to stay mostly silent on these issues - hoping and praying others will step up in Australia, but for some reason this really gets me, and I expect no one will say anything...

Here's my comment to Dilan's article and the subsequent comments to it as of 11am 5th March 2013.

Re "In ANU’s case, it will enable Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt to teach astronomy students from around the world without a fee, and all at the click of a button."

Brian has been able to teach astronomy to people around the world since the Internet was invented. A corporate entity with a simplistic understanding of learning, and as you point out - poor outlook, wasn't needed. Or was it?

I find it perplexing that corporate and profit motive entities find such an easy way into our education system. I remember when iTunesU made their first wave, and asked all the academics being told to get on board to waver their academic freedoms and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

And while all this goes on, long running, vastly more popular and successful, not-for-profit, volunteer-based and sustained, non proprietary alternatives are sidelined and ignored by the likes of The Conversation writers.

Wikipedia is a good example, and next to it is Wikibooks and Wikiversity. Or if you like a more institutional flavour to your MOOC, Wikieducator. Or if you like a more grass roots and community spirited MOOC, try Melbourne Free University or one of the many Free Universities in a city near you, that have been going since Joseph Beuys started the Free University International in the 70s, and Ivan Illich caught the attention of most educators.

But forget all that ancient history. Still with the techno fetishism of today.

If you were to ready to consider Wikipedia, Wikibooks and Wikiversity (and the many other reference text projects administered by the Wikimedia Foundation) then this copyright issue is managed, and managed very well. Furthermore, unlike the corporate entities we seem to bias our attention to, Wikimedia Foundation projects are not-for-profit, openly governed, with budgets published in detail, and with clear and debatable direction. If Australian universities where to give just 1% of their online learning budget to the Wikimedia Foundation, and pump the projects like they do iTunesU and MOOCs, then we'd have open education on a sustainable, commons-based footing. Oh, and if corporate partnerships are what you need, then the copyright is ok for you to take and do it. Not the other way around though. Funny that!

And will someone in the Conversation at least acknowledge that the acronym MOOC was not invented by Coursera, EdX or any of these. It was coined by David Cormier in 2008 - to name the work of Stephen Downes and George Siemens, who were inspired by people working large and open courses on Wikieducator and Wikiversity in 2006 onwards. This is long before The Conversation writers chose to pay attention to corporate adventures using the name.

This new corporatisation of yet another Commons-based initiative, and the willingness of venues like The Conversation writers to sideline obvious origins needs investigating... "Market forces" you might generalise it as. Or if looking for more detail, I would consider it Manufactured Consent.