Friday, 5 December 2008

Open Educational Resources - panel session

Well that was interesting, even if at times there was a slightly 'retro' feel to some of the presentations and points being made. A colleague muttered in my ear "that was so 1999, wasn't it?" - a really bitter remark for those in geekdom. I guess part of the issue was that the talks were of a fairly general level, largely explaining repository models, but to be fair they did highlight on some of the challenges and reasons why the rapid growth in open education resources hasn't happened yet. 

Although every speaker mentioned the importance of IPR (intellectual property rights) as a challenge and some commented how there is widespread ignorance amongst teachers and academic staff about the implications of copyright (including creative commons) and that it is possible to still use things like CC to make a profit if so desired, one of the key stumbling blocks that none of the panel raised is that in much of daily practice in education people make use of diagrams from textbooks, video materials from a variety of sources, numerical examples from elsewhere, etc. In other words, we are actually closer in some ways to the copyright breaching, mix-remix subculture than perhaps many are prepared to admit. Rather than it always being the case that academics don't contribute to digital repositories because they want to jealously guard their own content, I suspect in some (many?) cases it is because they don't actually own the content they use in their teaching. This is something that can be seen in things like MIT and the Open University initiatives, where you might notice gaps in the materials provided for many of these courses, where copyright for a particular image, diagram or case study is actually owned by a commercial publisher or some other colleague.

Part of the outdated feel my colleague was referring to though, was the use of Lego (TM) to explain re-purposable content. There was an almost audbile groan when the first lego block appeared on screen. So there's still life in the old metaphor yet it would seem. However, I guess for those for whom  open content is a new concept this is useful, though that would only be a minority of people in this audience based on the show of hands at the start.

Nonetheless, from my own point of view, the talks were clear and helpful. Richard Baraniuk spoke very well and made some really good points not just in the presentation but also in the Q&A afterwards. He emphasised the reality of the approach to producing open textbooks quite powerfully by handing around a printed example of a collaborative text (as in the picture) and the numbers he used with regards to the California Community Colleges, where the costs of the texts outstrips tuition fees, was powerfully made. 

Francesc Pedro of the OECD, summarised their report entitled "Giving Knowledge for Free" and highlighted the moral dilemma they had with the report in that OECD normally charges for their reports. Given the title they had to offer this as a free download!

Rachel Bruce summarised JISC's approach to open content and repositories and talked about the next stages, using JORUM as the principal platform.

Artur Dyro, representing the commercial sector took a brave stand on the podium but was good natured and light hearted. His concluding remark was also well-received where he pointed out that without the commercial sector we would have no sponsored lunches at conferences like this in the future. A call for collaboration if ever there was one.

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