OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by Brian Lamb -
Number of replies: 5

Hi all,

I feel lucky to be the facilitator for the second topic of this seminar, entitled "OERu operations and lessons we are learning". Lucky, because it addresses many of the challenges I face day to day at Thompson Rivers University, and I am confident that the people involved in this discussion will provide a lot of valuable and fresh insights that will likely be applicable in many contexts.

Some prompts to frame our discussion of lessons learned:

What are the institutional capacity development requirements for OERu operations? How do we address these?

To my mind, we might address these questions in a fairly general sense ("building institutional capacity"), and/or through a more focused OERu lens (our specific needs and challenges in meeting our OERu objectives).

In a broad sense, I'm spending a lot of time these days thinking about the question of "building capacity" around open at my institution. Personally, I see this as a set of tasks that all depend on each other, and to my mind need to be developed more or less concurrently: gathering or raising resources, identifying willing participants, attracting new participants, building use cases, having tools in place, supporting people where needed, sharing lessons learned and celebrating successes. How do you conceptualize the issue of "developing capacity"?

I'd also be interested in hearing some of the specific challenges being faced by OERu partners, and by community participants.

What are the lessons we are learning from prototyping?

Between the first OERu anchor partner meeting, and the second one we will be having in less than six weeks, many of us have taken our work to new places. I hope people will share some of the things they've picked up in the process. Have you or your organizations developed approaches or techniques we can all learn from?

David Bull has posted some very useful reflections from USQ here. -- http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=16816

What technologies will bring us closer to achieving our goals and how do we implement them?

MediaWiki is the technology I most closely associate with the OERu, and in a sense it is a community of "WikiEducators" in the literal sense as well as in its state of mind. But the number of other tools and platforms people are using to connect through this seminar speaks to the reality that OERu is not a technical monoculture. I am a huge fan of wiki-oriented education activities and the power of MediaWiki as a platform, but should we be thinking of incorporating other technologies?

What are the business models for scalable and sustainable operations?

The questions of fostering and managing growth while maintaining a stable footing never go away. Looking across the open education or "free culture" landscape, there are hopeful examples and creative ideas, yet I still struggle to identify and understand successful models that inspire confidence. Where are you seeing success stories whose examples we might emulate?

Please feel free to focus on whatever questions raised here seem most compelling to you, and if you feel thesy are not addressing the real issues of operations and lessons learned, by all means post questions of your own. The plan is to hash out these ideas today (it's the morning of Friday, September 20th here in western Canada as I post this), and Monday the 23rd, after which we will move on to the next topic. I am very much looking forward to seeing where this discussion goes. 

In reply to Brian Lamb

Re: OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by Irwin DeVries -

Wikis are great for collaborative development of content but less so for promoting collaboration among learners, and the latter point is a limitation felt by WikiEducators who want to design more open-ended and interactive learning experiences. That said, WE software engineer Jim Tittsler has done a brilliant job of aggregating feeds from multiple sources as we can see in the present session, and I think this is the type of work that needs to continue. While it’s not that difficult to pull content from WE into Moodle or other LMSs (again something that we see in the present session), it would be good to be able to include platforms such as WordPress or other blogs in the mix, for starters, to avoid over-reliance on the use of LMS silos. 

Then again, a cautionary note: WE is a community of volunteers, including independent and community educators, and people employed elsewhere in education who either volunteer their own time or are volunteered by their employers. It may take a wider collaboration to help move forward. I think Stephen Downes raised an excellent point earlier when he suggested that “Maybe cMOOC people and OERu people should talk more.” That sounds like at least one place to start.

In reply to Brian Lamb

Re: OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by Wayne Mackintosh -

Hi Brian,

Thank you for your gift of time and knowledge to facilitate this session. You have been with us since the inception of this amazing OER journey more than a decade ago and your work establishing the UBC wiki was nothing short of inspirational. We're chuffed that you experience can be put to good use in the OERu family :-).

Apology for the long post – but I get to see the OERu from a network perspective.

Institutional capacity development requirements

I echo your interests and focus in building capability in “openness”. Observing OERu developments and interactions this past year I sense that many of the staff working on OERu related projects are not familiar with how open communities function. For example, the dominant mode of communication from partner institutions via my desk is via personal email rather than using the open OERu lists for collective problem solving. I make point of answering all personal emails – but the downside of this model is loss of productivity and collaborative learning from the solutions for the benefit of our open network. We're all grappling with similar issues and it would be for more effective if we leveraged the collective wisdom of our network to find solutions and improve our processes. The OER Foundation has been running regular (almost weekly) hangout sessions to support OERu partners with technology related issues but these sessions are poorly attended.

I'd be interested to hear from participants in the seminar why personal communications (traditional closed model) are favoured above open networking. For example: Is it a lack of knowledge and experience in how open processes work? Are their policy barriers which restrict OERu staff members from communicating openly about our collective OERu projects? Other reasons?

From my own perspective, I think we should allocated a session or breakout session during the next OERu Anchor Partner meeting to explore options and ideas for improving our open processes in the OERu network and responding to any problems or challenges we identify during this ScoPE session. Should we invest time on this dimension at our meeting?

What are the lessons we are learning from prototyping?

A few of the lessons we are learning from the OERu prototypes:

  • Selecting OERu courses to be assembled from existing OER: We have achieved the agreed target established at the OERu 2011.11 Anchor Partner meeting of completing 3 prototype courses. These will provide valuable insights into our planning at the OERu 2013.10 Anchor Partner meeting. However, we need to radically improve our game with the selection of OERu courses leading to a programme of study and exit credentials. What are the local institutional barriers for identifying OERu courses? What can we do as a network to streamline and support OERu partners in nominating courses? I would like to suggest an agenda item for discussing and agreeing the OERu course nominations.

  • Finalising an agreement on the schedule for our two course contributions. Each OERu partner has agreed to contribute two courses to the OERu network, by assembling courses from existing OERs or “donating” courseware under open content licenses. To date, we have not agreed a reasonable time line for a member to complete their course contributions. Would 2 to 3 years from the date of joining (or agreed decision) be a reasonable time line for an OERu partner to complete their course contribution. Some institutions (eg non-teaching partners) are not in a position to contribute courses so we need to consider a discussion on alternate ways to contribute to the network. What are our needs and what do these partners bring to the table?

  • Learning managements systems will not work for OERu delivery. Possibly the most important lesson the WikiEducator community has learned from running open courses since January 2007 and serving the needs of close to 10,000 course registrations is that LMSs will not work as the core delivery technology for the OERu. They do not scale well and the central administration requirements would exceed our capacity to maintain these systems. Moreover, choosing one LMS system would restrict the ability of our partners to reuse OERu courses in the local institutional LMS. Above all, the OERu cannot lock down materials behind password access and running open LMS systems is an administration nightmare for managing SPAM

  • Mobilising our OERu partner FTE contributions: A few OERu partners have contributed significantly more than the agreed 0.2 FTE staff contribution to the OERu network. BIG thanks to our institutions who are leading the way! Currently we have 29 anchor partners and the 0.2 FTE contribution would equal about 6 full-time staff members. I would hazard a guess that our outputs this past year do not equate to 6 full-time staff. What should we be doing to improve the productivity of our outputs?

  • Copyright knowledge: To be candid, the majority of our staff at our partner institutions have very little knowledge of copyright and how remix works with open licenses. This ranges from poor selection of prototype courses (eg selecting course developments which rely on encumbered texts) to breech of copyright when remixing open resources. How do we address this need? Improving knowledge of copyright is equally important for staff working on closed course development – so the OERu partnership could contribute to building capability for all staff in the higher education sector.

  • Open design: As the OERu prototype courses are progressing, I've observed that we need to improve our knowledge on the design for open courses. Conventional e-learning methods do not scale well for open courses and we need to design for multiple reuse scenarios. For example, the traditional “introduce yourself in the discussion forum” activity does not work with a course of +500 participants ;-). Open design needs to be more flexible, for example catering for the different modes of engagement (i.e. self interest, certification for participation, learning for credit). Designing for reuse could be a point of difference for our network, for example designing OERu courses so that they can easily be integrated for parallel mode delivery with registered students on campus in parallel with the free OERu learners. Given that OERu courses do not provide tutorial support, more consideration needs to be given to designing courses to leverage peer-learning support. I guess what I'm saying is that we have an opportunity to build capability in “open design” in our network – How should we do this?

  • Getting a lot smarter in leveraging the cost advantages for OERu partners. The most significant cost advantage for an OERu partners is to reuse an OERu course for local delivery for full-fee students. In short the OERu partner can get a full course without spending a cent on development plus the added benefit of widening access to OERu learners. To date, we do not have one example of an OERu course being reused at a partner institution. To be fair, its too early to see this in practice, but I think we should spend time discussing how to establish a reuse prototype so we can learn from the experience.

What technologies will bring us closer to achieving our goals and how do we implement them?

The OER Foundation is not wedded to any technology solution as long as its open source and that we have the capacity to maintain and administer the central OERu infrastructure. With reference to authoring environments there are a few major requirements:

  • Detailed revision history for collaborative editing and ability to harvest a revision instance.

  • The ability to integrate OERu content in a variety of delivery technologies for our partners (eg LMSs, Blogs, static websites etc.)

  • The need for an open access version without password access.

Drawing on our experiences so far, there are a few areas of improvement potential:

  • Modernising and improving the look and feel of OERu course materials

  • Finding solutions to “skin” or “brand” OERu content for OERu partners

  • Improved separation of content and form elements to enhance reuse for a variety of delivery technologies.

We should also think about our collaborative course authoring environment as a community garden. Given that our entire OER Foundation technology infrastructure is based on open source technologies, we have unique opportunities for OERu partners to engage in technology innovation. I would like to see more input and support from our partner institutions in collaborating on smart innovations to maximise the benefits of our technology infrastructure for the partners. Moreover, this would provide an opportunity for the technology teams at OERu partner institutions to gain authentic experience in running open infrastructure.

What are the business models for scalable and sustainable operations?

This is a key strength of the OERu model. We are bootstrapping the collaboration from a very low cost base which means the fiscal sustainability thresholds are low.

As indicated in an earlier post, we only need to increase our current membership of 29 institutions by 10 additional OERu partners for a fiscally sustainable collaboration without reliance on third party donor funding. As a registered non-profit entity, the OER Foundation, must apply all revenue to charitable activities for the benefit of our network. Once we have achieved the break even threshold of contributing members we will be able to commission the paid development of OERu courses this increasing the scalability of our collaboration. Few OER projects have succeeded in getting thus far :-). Moreover, the implementation of the OERu is a designated project of the UNESCO-COL OER Chair network. These are solid foundations on which to achieve a fiscally sustainable model.

We are dealing with a chicken and egg situation. Until we have the critical mass of courses leading to a credential, it is difficult to “market” pathways to credentials for prospective OERu learners. There are a few things we can prioritise during this interim phase to achieve sustainable operations.

  • Focus on course developments which have immediate gains for the partner institution where OERu learners are not a critical requirement for success. The SP4Ed mOOC at the University of Canterbury developed in collaboration for the OERu provides an excellent example. The mOOC was developed to offer an international learning experience for the University of Canterbury students and this was acheived. With this approach we can succeed in reducing the costs of course development for OERu partners even in the situation where there is no revenue generation from OERu learners participating in formal assessment. Consequently, any OERu learners requesting formal assessment services is a bonus which does not incur any upfront costs by the OERu partner.

  • Help the OERu in recruiting new members. Leaders and managers in the OERu partner institutions each have their own networks to identify prospective partners. Knowledge multiplies through consumption and similarly our network becomes more effective as the number of members increase. With more members we can reduce the number of course contributions and generate more opportunities for local savings in course development.

That's enough for one post :-). Looking forward to reading additional ideas and suggestions. 

In reply to Brian Lamb

Re: OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by Paul Stacey -

OERu - Phones not Computers?

I keep thinking about the technologies part of OERu and wondering whether the current technology path OERu is on will be optimal for its intended learners. If OERu is really intending to provide learning to students everywhere I'm thinking a better strategy would be to focus OERu's technology efforts around mobile delivery by phones. This could also be another distinctly different characteristic of OERu that situates it as serving the needs of all not just the privileged.

In reply to Brian Lamb

Re: OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by simon fenton-jones -

What are the inter- institutional capacity development requirements for OERu operations? How do we address these?

Hi Brian,

I thought I should start at this point as many of the issues that the OERu is addressing here apply to so many other "open" initiatives. Wayne's already made the point "We should also think about our collaborative course authoring environment as a community garden" (Yu might like this) and "LMS will not work for OERu course delivery".

It's a problem for every Open initiative - trying to come up with a combination of widgets/apps that will appeal to both teachers and students (bureaucrats and citizens) as an ideal "learning environment" (to use this community's terminology). And that's compounded for most Openers  because one has to be a bit schzophrenic - wearing an "internal' (institutional)  and external (inter-institutional) hat. As a change in principle, all Open initiatives describe the shift from delivering to co-creating their publicly-funded service.

To use a network architect's lingo, Open means public networks are moving from an institutional client/server to a inter-institutional collaborator/cloud model. So, if we wanted a point of reference for discussions with the MOOC communities, and beyond, it might be more useful to turn the conversation to talk about this model shift rather than capacity development.

We have sooo many open projects developing their "criticial mass" and "perfect learning" platform from the comfort of their project's URL. They all say "Join Us!" (or go away). Then, when releasing their findings, courses or platform. they get upset when they are ignored. Not exactly a way to encourage open research is it?

So, to come back to the transition in network model; cause no Opener will see their dreams come true until we address where their planes hit the common tarmac. You asked;

What technologies will bring us closer to achieving our goals and how do we implement them?

I'd ask; What is the common point of focus for all Open networkers? It's to do with each institutional member being able to log on, with their institutional credentials to a range of inter-institutional/co-designed (cloud based) environments and "services" (to use network speak). The most important ones being the Real Time Communication services, because they're more time-critical. As to the technologies, and open standards, which will enable them to get on with their dreams. That's up to each working group, their librarians, and a group of very quiet National R&E network managers. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and make a cup of tea, between the time I push the Post to Forum button and the time, after the packets travel back and forwards between Thailand and Canada, that my post appears. Thankfully, this web stuff is never time critical.

In reply to Brian Lamb

Re: OERu Session 2: OERu operations and lessons we are learning

by Maria Droujkova -

Why would institutions want open? Here are two use cases.

PLOS tree

PLOS is an open online depository in natural sciences, and Arxiv in math and science. Primary value to institutions: faster publishing in the "publish or perish" environment. Secondary value: better citation indices. Tertiary: better peer review through more reviewers. 

The second case is the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier. Primary value to institutions: saving money.