open education conference ’08
Although we’ve already had a weekend plus a Monday to digest COSL’s Open Ed ’08, the events from the conference and general good feeling inspired by speakers and individual conversations still drives us forward into the week and the beginning of next month. This year’s conference featured several notable speakers; the keynotes themselves were given by WikiEducator‘s Wayne Mackintosh, Magnatune‘s Teresa Malango, and MITE’s (Monterey Institute for Technology and Education) Gary Lopez . Personally, I attended all three keynotes plus a few other sessions from which I extracted some thought-provoking facts and ideas.
WikiEducator, Commonwealth of Learning: Wayne broke the news that WikiEducator will be moving to the awe-inspiring Dunedin, New Zealand, home to not only breathtaking landscapes but also Otago Polytechnic, the first ever university to have a default CC BY licensing policy. See my interview with Leigh Blackall in April. He also shed light on why many educators use WikiEducator. Surprisingly (or not, depending on your presumptions), the number one reason people go to the site is “to explore new ideas and trends”. I found this encouraging; educators are seeking to innovate, to learn in order to innovate. Case in point: the second reason was “to learn wiki skills”. Now we’ve just got to help them do it. Wayne also mentioned catering to different knowledge levels when it came to open source and sharing. He described what he called “capability phases”. The phases go something like this: personal teaching resources → WikiEducator featured resource → WikiEducator featured collaboration → peer-reviewed resource. Teachers begin by sharing their personal educational resources developed primarily for their own classroom; then they realize they can create resources on WikiEducator; furthermore, in collaboration with other educators!; finally, they ensure quality by reviewing each other’s work and constantly making changes to better place the work in context.
Magnatune – a history: Teresa’s presentation provided an outside viewpoint regarding possible business and sustainability models for openly licensed resources. She described how Magnatune was founded with a few core principles around which the business models had to be developed. The principles included respect and fair compensation for the artists, engagement with the consumers, and transparency in all that they do. Much of the conference focused on issues of sustainability and mechanisms for leveraging the value of OER, so her presentation served as a useful lesson regarding such issues from a different domain. Many of the key tools and technologies developed by Creative Commons, such as the CC Plus protocol, are core elements of the Magnatune site. What possibilties lie ahead for OER?
MITE on How to Build a Financially Self-sustaining OER: Practical Considerations: Gary launched an interesting study of how OER could financially sustain itself, based on MITE’s own policy regarding individuals and institutions. Basically, the premise is that individuals shouldn’t have to pay, but someone’s got to―that leaves institutions who are usually more than happy to pay for a service that would be free for their members. The value I took away from this was this off-shoot idea; that in the age of the internet, we are now living in a service-economy where content is free (either legally or illegally on the internet), but the services required to aggregate, make cohesive, and analyze that content is still needed. In the words of David Wiley, “If my students can Google it, I don’t need to teach it.” Open education is not just about freeing up content; it’s about making that content accessible in ways that are smart, novel, and interesting.
Financial sustainability is still an issue, but if we go back to Wayne’s presentation: what about commercial activities that would support OER? There are distribution channels; for example, we’ve already got sites like Lulu.com, and Flat World Knowledge is another big open textbook initiative set to launch next year. We’ve also got to think about incentive systems to get educators, researchers, and commercially employed persons to contribute beyond their full-time jobs. And finally, the most important statement that, I think, reiterates David’s sentiment: in the development of OER, quality is more about the process than it is about the product. Quality is a very different thing in one country’s context than it is in the next. But the process of producing OER, of gaining those critical thinking and analytic skills (remember why some of us went to college?) yields a quality process that can be integrated universally.
Demos: I was busy demo-ing ODEPO while Nathan was just as busy demo-ing the Universal Education Search, but I did get to check out one other tool―the University of Michigan’s dScribe. This technology was definitely built around the idea of sustainability. The basic question as I saw it: How do you make the materials (slides, handouts, images, video, etc.) that an educator uses in the classroom legal so that it can be shared online as OER? Further, how do you do so without draining the school of huge amounts of dollars and other resources? Answer: You build a tool that trains and allows students to gauge and evaluate the course materials for copyright information, and then to search for creative replacements (licensed under a CC or other open license) for those materials that are fully restricted. Ingenious! Props to the U of Michigan; we look forward to seeing progress on this initiative.
Various other sessions I attended were equally inspiring, but the basic sentiment I gathered from everyone was that this year’s conference marked great progress in all the projects initiated the year previous. ccLearn is excited about its own projects and looking forward to more dizzying collaboration within the Open Ed community.