Open University

A new course on Open Research at the School of Open

Jane Park, August 25th, 2014

The following is a guest post by Beck Pitt, researcher at the Open University’s OER Research Hub. We are collaborating with Beck and her team to investigate attitudes towards sharing educational resources online and the impact of School of Open courses.

Are you curious about what it means to research openly and what benefits it could have? Interested in how you can be open and ethical when conducting research? Wondering how openness could help raise the profile of your research? Thinking about the benefits of sharing reflections on your research?

The award-winning, Hewlett Foundation-funded OER Research Hub based at The Open University (UK) is pleased to announce its very own School of Open course in collaboration with the Peer 2 Peer University and Creative Commons. It opens for sign-up today at https://p2pu.org/en/courses/2377/open-research/.

Over six months in the making and peer-reviewed by the community, this new School of Open course offers the opportunity to explore the concept and practices of open research with participants from around the world. The course has been designed for any researcher who has an interest in utilizing open techniques and practices in their own research.

Join researchers Bea de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Beck Pitt, and project manager Natalie Eggleston for this four-week course that explores what open research is and the issues involved around it, including: ethics, dissemination, reflection, and evaluation. The course starts Monday, 15 September 2014 and features its very own “Open Research” badge for course completion and participation.

To sign up, simply click the “Start Course” button on the lower left of the course page once you have signed into or registered for a p2pu.org account. Sign-up will remain open through Friday, 12 September.

About the OER Research Hub

The OER Research Hub is an international open research project examining the impact of open educational resources (OER) on learning and teaching practices. It works collaboratively with initiatives, projects and organisations around the world, disseminating its research and curating evidence for the impact of OER on its Impact Map.

About the School of Open

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The School of Open is a global community of volunteers focused on providing free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, and research. Volunteers develop and run online courses, offline workshops, and real world training programs on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources, and sharing creative works. The School of Open is coordinated by Creative Commons and P2PU, a peer learning community for developing and running free online courses.

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School of Open begins investigating its impact with the OER Research Hub

Jane Park, December 2nd, 2013

milton keynes
Milton Keynes / CC BY

I took up residence in Milton Keynes, England, for one week in October as the Linked OER Research Hub Fellow for the School of Open. The School of Open is a community of volunteers from all around the world who are developing free education opportunities on the meaning, application, and impact of openness in their field of choice, whether that’s education, science, research, or community design. The free education opportunities consist of online courses, face-to-face workshops, and in-person training programs. Whatever the format, volunteers seek to help people do what they already do better with the aid of open resources and tools. One obvious example is helping educators to find and use free and open educational resources (OER) for the classroom.

In developing these opportunities, we decided it would be a good idea to simultaneously attempt to measure the impact of our activities. We teamed up with the OER Research Hub for a Linked Research Fellowship, which would provide funding for travel/accommodations and a researcher to help with administering, collecting, and analyzing School of Open data. Since we only just launched in March and have a limited data set to work with, we decided to start by focusing on a subset of our online, facilitated courses. School of Open volunteers administered optional surveys in four courses: Copyright 4 Educators (AUS), Copyright 4 Educators (US), Creative Commons for K-12 Educators, and Writing Wikipedia Articles: The Basics and Beyond. The surveys gather feedback from participants on their sharing practices and attitudes towards OER before and after the course. In combination with feedback from the facilitators themselves and archival course material, we hope to write up a short report on our preliminary findings. This report will likely identify gaps where more research is needed, which we hope to conduct during our next round of facilitated courses in March 2014. Then we will publish a final report with our findings in the third quarter of 2014.

My week with the OER Research Hub

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As a linked fellow, my week with the OER Research Hub was organized around meeting with Beck Pitt, the researcher I have been working closely with around collecting the data, in addition to meeting the rest of the Hub’s research team and Open University staff working on open education projects of interest to the School of Open. Since I had been and would continue to work on aggregating and analyzing the data remotely, it was crucial to make the most of my stay through face-to-face meetings. Through these meetings, I was thrilled to discover additional areas for collaboration. They are:

  • OER Research course: A School of Open course on how to conduct research openly, especially in the field of OER, to be developed in conjunction with an OER research toolkit that the OER Research Hub team is already developing. The initial concept for the course is still being shaped, but we imagine the course to be for those who are leading open education projects of their own that don’t currently have the resources to measure the impact of their project. This course would equip them with the methods, tools, and familiarity with ethical, privacy, and cultural issues researchers need to consider when conducting research. We aim to have the course developed in time to be part of a facilitated round of School of Open courses in the second quarter of 2014, and to exist thereafter as a stand-alone course for anyone to take at any time.
  • Open Translation course: A School of Open course on open translation, or more specifically, how to translate materials that are openly licensed and what that means. The TESS-India project at the Open University already runs translation workshops for its volunteers in various regions of India to translate OER addressing regional, cultural, and linguistic issues for translation into several Indian languages including Hindi. As part of the workshops, TESS-India will include a day/session on OER and open licensing and what that means for translation. As these workshops will be recorded, we will have video in addition to the workshop resources which can be adapted into an online course for translators around the world. We hope to work with TESS-India to prepare this course for 2014.
  • OpenLearn OER course: A joint OpenLearn and School of Open course on OER, drawing on existing resources like Creating open educational resources.
  • CC license and OER education for the OER Research Hub’s K-12 educator networks, such as the Flipped Learning Network, in the form of webinars and media such as infographics.

mozfest candy
Mozfest candy / CC BY

For our main collaboration — research on School of Open courses — we were able to ready some of the data we had collected for the Mozilla Festival, where Beck hosted a “scrum” on visualizing open education data called the Open Ed Data Detective. Throughout the festival, several participants came by to experiment with the School of Open data along with other data the OER Research Hub made available. In addition to preparing for the data scrum, we collected and compiled most of the initial data on the School of Open courses listed above, including web analytics and data for all 13 stand-alone courses. We outlined a plan for completion of a report on preliminary research findings, follow-up interviews we will conduct with facilitators and course participants, and additional research we will conduct in 2014 during Round 3 of School of Open’s facilitated courses.

For a research residency that lasted less than a week, we made a tremendous amount of progress. I look forward to working closely with the OER Research Hub and Open University staff in the coming months!

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Cathy Casserly receives honorary doctorate from the Open University

Jane Park, May 1st, 2012


Cathy Casserly / Ede & Ravenscroft / CC BY-SA

In March, Cathy, our CEO, was recognized for her contributions to open education through an honorary doctorate awarded by The Open University. The Open University is home to the OpenLearn initiative, which makes available over 11,000 hours of structured learning via CC BY-NC-SA and has received over 20 million visitors. In addition to sustaining the largest YouTube EDU presence in Europe and iTunes U downloads totaling over a quarter a million a week, The Open University also leads the TESSA project in Africa, under CC BY-SA, which has delivered open educational resources to over a million teachers.

Professor David Vincent conferred the degree, with the following remarks:

The proliferation of knowledge on the web has challenged traditional boundaries between formal
and informal learning. Students have been quick to seize the opportunities, using their keyboards
to explore the vast archives of information now available to them. Schools and universities, and
the public bodies who fund them, have been much slower. It takes courage to abandon time-
honoured means of owning and protecting the learning resources that they have created and paid
for. Through her leadership at a number of key American foundations Cathy has played a critical
role in challenging established thinking and promoting innovation.

Her approach has been essentially collaborative. She has used donor income to stimulate change in
educational bodies in the United States and around the world. After a PhD at Stanford and a spell in
teaching, she has served as Director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at The William and
Flora Hewlett Foundation, Vice President and Senior Partner, Innovation and Open Networks at the
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is now Chief Executive Officer of Creative
Commons, which is dedicated to providing the legal infrastructure for open resources.

Congrats, Cathy! CC hopes to do more great work in open education together.

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CC Salon London: Open Educational Resources — Policies for Promotion

Heidi Chen, February 29th, 2012

Creative Commons, Creative Commons United Kingdom (CC UK) and iCommons Ltd. are pleased to present the next CC Salon London on Thursday, March 29. CC Salon London will feature five panelists discussing the state of open educational resources (OER) and the effect of copyright and other policies on the development of digital tools and content for education. We will close with a period of questions and discussion from the audience. Our five panelists will be:

  • Catherine M. Casserly, CEO, Creative Commons
  • Victor Henning, Co-Founder & CEO, Mendeley Ltd.
  • Naomi Korn, Co-Founder, Web2Rights
  • Patrick McAndrew, OLnet Director, The Open University
  • Amber Thomas, Digital Infrastructure Programme Manager, JISC

CC UK Public Lead Joscelyn Upendran will moderate the panel discussion. This event is free and open to the public; however, advance registration is required. Light refreshments will be provided.

For more information, and to register, visit: http://ccsalonlondon2012.eventbrite.com.

CC would like to give special thanks to Nature Publishing Group for generously hosting this event. Under the leadership of CEO Annette Thomas, a member of the CC Board of Directors, Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group offers multiple scientific journals under CC BY-NC-SA and CC BY-NC-ND.

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CC Talks With: The Open University’s Patrick McAndrew: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, September 27th, 2010

At the beginning of this year we announced a revised approach to our education plans, focusing our activities to support of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. In order to do so we have worked hard to increase the amount of information available on our own site – in addition to an Education landing page and the OER portal explaining Creative Commons’ role as legal and technical infrastructure supporting OER, we have been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.

One major venue for the advancement of OER is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Patrick McAndrew is Associate Director (Learning & Teaching) at The Open University’s (OU) Institute of Educational Technology, Co-director of OLnet, the OER Initiative with Carnegie Mellon University, and affiliated with OpenLearn, OU’s OER portal. We talked with Patrick about OER research, the use of open social tools for collaboration around OER, and the role of CC as a flexible yet straightforward mechanism for communicating rights.

How did you come to be involved with open education projects? How do the initiatives you work on fit together?

I joined the Open University just over 10 years ago coming into the Institute of Educational Technology. The Open University has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and a key part of the University’s approach has always been to innovate in the way we think about helping people learn. In the past these innovations have been in the use of media such as broadcast television and methods to support distance learning; now they often focus on the online connections that can be made. The definition of openness has changed from one which focussed on low barriers to student entry, such as no need for prior qualifications, to allowing much more flexible study and free access. In 2005 we started working with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to see if we could release some of our own content, openly and for free. This became OpenLearn, launched in October 2006. Within OpenLearn, not only is open content made available, but it also uses an open learning environment that allows others to contribute. As part of OpenLearn I led a research strand looking at the various impacts OER were having on Open University activities and on users. That research focus has resonated with reflections across the wider OER movement as it matures so that, with Carnegie Mellon University, we are now supported as OLnet by the Hewlett Foundation to gather research findings and evidence across global activity in OER.


Patrick McAndrew, courtesy OER10 / CC BY-SA

Part of what the OLnet project aims to do is establish an evidence base and research framework for the emerging OER field. What are the most valuable research questions to investigate?

We set out in the OLnet proposal issues of design, reach, and the cycle that brings open content into use for learning. These remain key elements, but we have also gone through a process of reflecting on our findings from year one and seeing how the environment has changed. We have expanded the focus areas to policy, design, approaches to learning, the impact of content, and the tools that help support research. Candace Thille (co-director of OLnet) made a very useful observation that we were watching OER move from an end it itself to being a means to an end. The potential impact of openness is significant, so we are paying more attention to the way it can act as a change engine and influence individuals, institutions, and policy. Many of our questions can be phrased in two parts, first as “What is the evidence … ?”, such as “What is the evidence that OER can help learning systems change?” The second element is “What conclusions can we draw about …?” This can challenge us as researchers where it is natural to find balancing arguments, but is an important part of helping the future direction for OER. Overlying this is the idea of different contexts, an aspect that OLnet is in a good position to contribute to through its international OLnet Fellows.

The Open University and OLnet develop and champion the use of open social networking and knowledge sharing tools such as Cloudworks and Cohere. What do these open source tools do, and who is the intended audience? How do they support teaching and learning via OER?

For OLnet these tools have come to the fore in helping us carry out and reflect on research in OER. In Cloudworks we have an open social platform that provides a base for discussion, asking questions and supporting events. It has been very effective in giving more impact to what are otherwise local and often transient events. It was developed at The Open University but can be used by anyone, with OLnet’s own use being just one strand. Cohere is a Web tool to enhance collaborative learning, sense-making and critical thinking. Cohere helps reasoning and is designed to help us cope with the challenge I mentioned above of drawing some conclusions while also knowing that there are arguments for and against. Cohere allows these situations to be visualised and explored in a collaborative way. In its current state of development, I think it is a tool for researchers, but its usability and the models for its use are developing rapidly. Similar to a previous knowledge mapping tool, Compendium, Cohere could well find a role for learners, especially in presenting arguments. Compendium was released as part of OpenLearn and is now used informally by learners to build connections and also in a simplified version by learners on some of The Open University’s own courses.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

Creative Commons has helped enormously. At the simplest level in OpenLearn we had originally put aside £100,000 for legal fees in writing a viable licence, none of that was needed as we adopted CC. Having a licence that is accepted across the world matters very much in the education system as people are trying to do the right thing, which can mean a reluctance to use free systems unless they are also clearly open systems. CC makes it easy to be clear. The CC licence also gave us a good way to work with our third party providers – we did not want to just strip out that content, but they also did not want to enable anyone to build a free rival to their content. This was a case where the varied licences of CC helped, in particular the non-commercial clause. Challenges do remain about compatibility though; at one stage it looked like incorporating a variety of licenses would get in the way, but guidance about compatibility and a layer of commonsense is helping. CC assists by tracking the take up in education and has also set up a good area for sharing information about the use of CC in education. OLnet was looking at how to attract such a community, and the presence and impact of CC achieved that for us.

OpenLearn’s 2008 research report highlighted a thesis of OER scholar and advocate David Wiley–“the sustainability of OpenLearn will be achieved by making OER part of the normal fabric of the University’s business, whether that is around teaching and learning, research and/or business and community engagement activities.” How does OpenLearn see its role in relation to the broader Open University?

OpenLearn is being sustained and is continuing now without direct external funding as we increasingly embed and integrate it into the University’s way of operating. OpenLearn itself now comprises three related sites, while we also use other channels such as YouTube and specialist sites for very specific OER work. As such OpenLearn has a broader scope around all open media work that encompasses other outward looking activities such as reflecting the research of the University, the links that we have with broadcast television and the very successful use of iTunesU (where incidentally The Open University now has more downloads than any other university). OpenLearn’s role through Explore and LearningSpace is primarily as a route to Open University outputs and continues to support the communities around it. But it has another important role as a catalyst for activity involving others. OpenLearn has also been the spark for a range of other major grant funded activities, notably OLnet, SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education), OPAL (Open Education Quality Initiative), SocialLearn, as well as many other smaller projects linking to OpenLearn’s LabSpace.

Wrapping up, what does a successful teaching and learning environment implementing the power of OER “look like”? Do you have any lingering thoughts — worries, hopes, predictions?

The power of OER lies in its openness; this gives it great flexibility so that material that we might release in the Moodle based OpenLearn environment can be used on WordPress or Slideshare or YouTube or whatever. What we do at the moment certainly is helping people–oftentimes some of the most disadvantaged–learn. However, there is a larger opportunity to build an environment that helps to track what people are trying to accomplish in their learning, assist them to link up with others, and share the evidence of their learning. Some of this is being looked at in a companion project, SocialLearn, for use inside The Open University. But again, in an open world we should not be expecting only one solution.

One possible worry is that education will close down around its existing models. However, the world has changed in that there is no controlling interest that can stop open content having an impact in some form. The hope is that the flexibility gained from openness will assist so many projects, as it has with the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), by adopting an “everything in the middle” philosophy to sharing that helps address real needs for education. These sorts of predictions are always difficult. I suppose a fairly safe one is that the Internet will become a stronger base for learning without costs, and that a sense of achievement and advancement can grow alongside a sense of distraction!

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Students for Free Culture’s Open University Campaign

Fred Benenson, October 28th, 2009

Open University

Students for Free Culture plays a big part of the CC community and we frequently look to them for new hires and volunteers. That’s why we’re always excited to highlight the projects they’re working on. Kevin Donovan just posted on the SFC blog about their ongoing Open University Campaign, which is seeking to evaluate universities based on their openness in the following ways:

An open university is one in which:

  1. The research produced is open access;
  2. The course materials are open educational resources;
  3. The university embraces free software and open standards;
  4. The university’s patents are readily licensed for free software, essential medicine, and the public good;
  5. The university’s network reflects the open nature of the Internet,

where “university” includes all parts of the community: students, faculty and administration.”

The ultimate goal is to generate a report card for universities in order to help prospective students make informed decisions about the university’s copyright, patent, and technology policies.

SFC needs you to get involved if you fit into any of the following categories:

  • Are you a student who can research official university open access policies?
  • Are you passionate about FOSS and can develop a questionnaire for IT administrators about FOSS policy?
  • Are you statistically-inclined and can handle data on universities?
  • Are you a web developer who could create a public website for the Open University Report Cards?
  • Are you a graphic designer who could create posters to raise awareness on campuses?

You can join up by participating on the wiki, signing up for the Open University mailing list, or emailing board (at) freeculture (dot) org with suggestions or questions!

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Back to School: Legal Challenges for Teachers (Sharing Patient Health Data)

Lila Bailey, September 3rd, 2009

As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.

For this post in my Legal Challenges for Teachers series, I will focus on challenges for medical education. Although copyright issues are a problem for medical education as in any other educational area, those who educate and train doctors face many additional hurdles.

According to Open University,

Ethiopia has a population of 84 million people served by fewer than 1800 doctors, most of these in private practice. People are suffering and dying because they cannot get access to a doctor when they need one.

To combat this problem, the Ethiopian government is planning to create 11 new medical schools and 8000 new places for medical students to obtain training. Open University is working with the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia to pilot open and distance learning medical training with students at the recently opened St Paul’s Millennium Medical School in Addis Ababa.

Given the desperate need for new doctors in Africa and around the world, and the distinct lack of trained doctors to teach them, many medical education programs are turning to digital technologies and distance learning for innovative means of educating new doctors. One interesting model being used is the Virtual Patient (VP). VPs are interactive computer simulations of real-life clinical scenarios, and may consist of many learning objects (e.g., text, images, animations, and videos). VPs are becoming recognized as highly effective training tools.

Yet while the use of distance education, such as via Open University, and digital technologies, such as VPs, have the potential to vastly expand the number of doctors with access to quality clinical training resources, it is not without its own challenges. Access to information about real life patients is necessary to develop VPs and other effective clinical training resources. VPs are very time-consuming and expensive to develop, so it is necessary to be able to share existing VPs in a manner that is adaptable to different cultural, linguistic and educational scenarios. Therefore, a prerequisite to the success of these projects is the ability to actually share and reuse the relevant digital content (i.e., the patient information). However, sharing data about patients is subject to numerous laws and regulations, including considerations of confidentiality, patient privacy and protection and control over patient data. This makes sharing data between institutions quite difficult, and even more so when the institutions are located in different countries having different legal requirements.

The Electronic Virtual Patient, or eViPs, program is a collaboration between nine universities across Northern Europe and MedBiquitious, which helped to develop the technical standards used in e-based healthcare education. eViPs has managed to compile a repository of 320 VPs which will soon be made available under a Creative Commons license. In order to share the health data that was used in the development of the VPs contained in the repository, full consent of the participating patients had to be obtained, as detailed in this report. It is wonderful to see collaborations such as this one that have been able to meet the challenges particular to sharing patient health data.

Unfortunately, the ability to share patient health data is still limited to specific projects and institutions. I wonder whether it is possible to develop even more robust legal tools that will allow medical educators to share patient data across projects and across borders, while still maintaining appropriate patient confidentiality. Many lives depend on our ability to do so.

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