Tag Archives: open


Distributed Creativity: open education and challenges for higher education

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”Joichi Ito

As an educator involved in online learning I’ve noticed a change this year. I’ve had more conversations about online learning with colleagues who teach in classroom-based programmes – particularly about open online learning – than ever before. The growing interest in Khan Academy, MOOCs and Stanford University’s online courses has made many in higher education realise that clear divides don’t exist any longer. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, teachers and learners. Open, participatory and social media are not just enabling new forms of communication, they are transforming learning.

Learning is changing, but what of education? A couple of blog posts this week questioning the value of going to university at all are probably just the first of many.

A number of colleagues and I have been discussing these issues, as practitioners:  the opportunities and challenges of open online education, the role of the university, and our role as educators. Following is an edited draft of my initial contribution to these discussions. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

The growth of open online learning over the past decade has been steady. Open content, often discussed in terms of OERs (Open Educational Resources), is defined as “materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone”. The key to OERs is that they are openly licensed and thus available for use by all. The argument for using OERs is clear: if every university teaches introduction to programming, for example, then why should we all develop materials to teach this? Why not use openly available, openly licensed, excellent material, and spend more of our time on activities such as engaging with students, developing improved assessment strategies, etc.

There are many excellent sources of OERs (Open Educational Resources), including the NDLR; MERLOT; MIT OCW; OU Learning Space; OER Commons; Khan Academy; Stanford University’s online courses and more.

In terms of open online learning, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and other video-based resources can be characterized as 1st generation, while the recent initiative by Stanford University, among others, can be considered 2nd generation, in that it includes not only learning materials, but instructional design, a learning structure and assessment – providing an experience closer to that provided within formal education. Stephen Downes recently suggested that the next generation will be widespread use of OERs along with automated, analytics-based, competency-based testing mechanisms, or open assessment. Indeed, this is precisely what OER university (OERu), among others, is setting out to do. Other open initiatives such as MOOCs and Open Badges have further potential to disrupt traditional higher education. Over 2000 people are currently participating in the #change11 MOOC “Change: Education, Learning and Technology”. Mozilla’s Open Badges project, particularly the DML competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, is currently gaining a huge amount of attention as well.

Our challenges as educators in the further and higher education sectors? Here are just a few:

Open resources – Most students are aware of open educational resources, and these are shared widely, e.g. Khan Academy, YouTube, MIT OCW, and the recent Stanford University online courses. As educators, what are we doing to create or link to relevant online resources for students? Creating screencasts, video lectures, audio or video podcasts (and making these openly available) or linking to OERs (and OER repositories) can supplement lectures and provide students with valuable material for study and revision. Just as we refer students to the best textbooks, journals and databases, we should link to excellent, relevant, online open educational resources. Our challenge here is to create and share material in new ways, learn to use different tools, and stay abreast of online learning developments.

Open, participatory and social media – Students use social media and social networks in many ways, not least to support their studies, e.g. DropBox, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter. Once again, as academic staff, we must look to our own practice. Are we making use of tools such as social bookmarking, social networking, web-based applications, and online curation tools to model good academic practice and to share resources with students, and with one another? Not all student work must be submitted directly and privately to the lecturer – opportunities for openness, sharing and collaboration should be considered.  We are challenged to consider using open, social tools (at least sometimes) – instead of closed, 1:1 tools – in order to open up the learning process and make it more authentic.

Emerging technologies – In the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile devices and e-books are the most current of the emerging technologies identified. How are we addressing these trends? The Horizon Report lists examples of education institutions innovating in these areas for teaching, learning and research. Even if we are not at the front of the innovation curve, we must address these emerging technologies in our programmes in a coordinated way, and communicate to our students and others how we are doing that. For example, how are we making use of mobile apps, or making our own learning content available on mobile devices? How are we facilitating students in using open access or e-textbooks?

Openness – In most undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, students are encouraged to examine their digital footprint and digital identity, and to consider the value of building a deliberate, positive, digital identity. This is a core element of digital literacies. Our students are visible to us online, and we are visible to them. As academic staff, are we open and positively visible online, as professionals? Are we modelling academic values in virtual spaces? The best way to share and publicise open educational resources is through the use of social media and social networks, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs. In order to communicate and share our work and our values, our challenge is to consider our approach to openness – as individuals, as departments, and as universities.

Again, I welcome feedback and would be happy to hear from anyone who is currently engaged in similar discussions at their own institution. If you are at NUI Galway and would like to join in this discussion, please get in touch. I can be reached at catherine.cronin[at]nuigalway[dot]ie.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 yobink


Open, Connected and Optimistic: Reflections on PeLC

“Sharing with each other; this is the precious work we have to do.” John Davitt

I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the Plymouth eLearning Conference which took place last week. I summarised my initial reaction in a comment on Simon Finch‘s blog post on the conference:

So beautifully captured, Simon. The Plymouth eLearning Conference was an amazing combination of things: open, informal and full of laughs, as well as intense, reflective and thought-provoking. I just about wrote and drew my way back to Galway… ideas, plans, mind maps. Ready to roll! It was, indeed, a privilege to spend time with so many people hopeful and blazing with energy about the future of learning.

Steve Wheeler hosted an event which featured stimulating speakers and workshops, yet allowed time and comfortable spaces for conversations and connections to happen. I pay great credit to Steve and the talented team behind this event; the conference organisation was flawless. Somehow Plymouth even flaunted perfect summer weather (in April!).

Stephen Heppell set the tone in his keynote, describing himself as “more optimistic than ever” and calling this generation of newly-qualified teachers “the best I’ve ever seen”. He gave numerous, (literally) mouth-watering examples of student-designed learning spaces and student-led learning , e.g. creative seating, all walls as whiteboards, even classroom ovens for baking bread. Heppell inspired and challenged us, saying that this generation will astonish us with their learning — but only if we astonish them with the best possible learning environments.

John Davitt, playing with the concept of the keynote address, gave a talk which inspired, provoked and delighted. He reminded us that when learning is new and difficult, each of us walks a different path. Activity is key — so as educators we must seek to turn activity “from an afterthought to an artform”. I think this is a great challenge for higher education, particularly, where it’s easy to allow tradition and procedures to constrain us. Using the 4 axes of the sensory matrix: see, hear, touch and feel, John warned us to beware the Bermuda triangle of teaching. He demonstrated his RAG app, a Random Activity Generator for generating new ideas for learning activities — do check it out. Davitt concluded: “let’s celebrate our own learning curve”.

The future of learning is open and connected. Twitter continues to be a powerful tool, connecting learners across boundaries of sector, geography, culture. John Davitt gave the best definition of Twitter I’ve yet heard, describing it as a tool for “anarchic learning and peer support”. The Twitter backchannel during the conference (#pelc11) was a non-stop reflection and discussion of what was happening in the lecture theatres and beyond, with people sharing ideas, resources, questions and criticisms. Thanks to Twitter, this communication was real-time, open, raw. Educators tuned into the conference from far beyond Plymouth, contributing and interacting. When Stephen Heppell described great education as being “collaborative, collegiate, unstructured and global”, he was describing what we were doing at PeLC. How could we not offer this opportunity for great education to our students?

In numerous sessions, the call for mobile, open, connected learning was made. Conference contributors — including the wildly enthusiastic trainee teachers who presented at the TeachMeet (#tmpelc11), encouraged by the irrepressible @chickensaltash — shared their experiences of using Twitter, Facebook and blogging with their students. Let the students choose their own tools. These forms of public and connected writing can help students to develop academic literacy skills which go beyond basic writing skills to include reflection, online networking and giving and receiving feedback. School leadership must be brave and embrace openness. We are moving in the direction of more mobile, sharable devices and less single-focal-point classrooms.

As Stephen Heppell said, we live in a world of transparency; we just haven’t embraced this in teaching yet. More change will happen in education in the next 10 years than in the past 100. But very few at the Plymouth eLearning Conference doubted Heppell when he concluded his keynote: “the next decade will be the best in your professional lives”.

Postscript: Sharon Flynn and I were the only delegates to attend from Ireland, both of us travelling from NUI Galway. I hope that there will be more delegates from Ireland next year, for a learning experience that is more than the word “conference” can capture. Direct flights from Dublin to Plymouth — it’s an easy journey which I look forward to making again. (Postscript: Alas, no more direct Dublin-Plymouth flights, still looking forward to #pelc12 though!)

Related post: #pelc11 workshops

** More blog posts from the Plymouth eLearning Conference: