OERs & Internationalisation

On Tuesday the OER programme held its interim programme meeting in London – details of the full agenda and copies of the presentations are available on the JISC website here: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/oer/progmtgoct09.aspx.

Of the three parallel morning sessions, I attended the Internationalisation session and these are my notes for this – if you are interested in continuing (or joining) the discussion, Patrick McAndrew from the OU has set up a cloudworks page for this here: http://cloudworks.ac.uk/index.php/cloud/view/2534

The session began with a short introduction to the topic by John Robertson from CETIS (covering for Lorna Campbell from CETIS who was unable to make the day due to illness). John started by getting a show of hands from the audience to gauge how many felt that making resources openly available was a good thing – which resulted in an overwhelming response of ‘yes’ they did think it was.

John then went on to ask whether the OER Programme was another example of British imperialism – and provided a number of thought provoking quotes (all in the presentation which can be downloaded from the link provided in the first paragraph of this blog). This is one example:

“What does encouraging ‘openness’ mean to a culture that is already open?”
Jared Stein, Utah Valley State College

US perspectives
This was followed by David Kernohan, who talked briefly about his recent visit to the US and meetings with those currently involved with openly releasing content and which were particularly pertinent to the issue of internationalisation.

He spoke about the work of Michigan State University (MSU). MSU is a former farm college which was set up with an agricultural remit. They are currently engaged in releasing some of their content openly – including materials about farming practices and horse management. They were aware that these resources were of particular interest to students and farmers in a number of developing countries. However, they found that their materials were not being used as often as expected and were concerned about this, as the release of their content was principally done for “public good”. Therefore they decided to do some research into why their resources were not being used in the volumes that they expected. They found that the cultural context in which they were packaged (i.e. how they were put together and presented) often meant that they were designed with a particular cultural background/understanding which was needed to understand them and this in turn made them difficult to use in a country that did not hold similar cultural views or knowledge. MSU have since been successful in gaining funding from the Gates Foundation to create these open educational resources alongside academics and potential users (students and farmers in Africa) to improve their (re)usability. They also have a parallel project in the food sciences which is working with end users in India, Malaysia and Egypt.

It is interesting to note that the MSU Project Manager for this work is not sure that this is sustainable (involving end users) even when using technology so that some meetings can be held remotely, as even this is expensive.

David also added that a range of MIT resources have (voluntarily) been translated into a wide number of other languages, including Chinese, and that it is not just the US and the UK releasing open content – the OpenCourseWare Consortium has 80 countries signed up.

All of which, David pointed out, highlights just how global the potential user base of Open Educational Resources can be.

Are Open Educational Resources Cultural Colonisation?
Patrick McAndrew from the OU started with answering his own question (are open educational resources cultural colonisation?) with “No” he didn’t think that they were, but that it was important to understand the risks associated with this.

He began with discussing an example of how easy it is to (unintentionally) culturally load materials by showing a presentation that he put together to promote the OpenLearn project. It begins with an image of Shakespeare, accompanied by classical music and goes on to include images of Queen Victoria and Darwin.

However, what he has found is that it is still possible to use culturally loaded material by using it to compare with, and discuss, local (e.g. African) cultures.

Patrick considered the motivations around making OER’s available, including:

• University culture (sharing/open/collaborative)
• Building institutional reputation and markets
• Institutional commitment to social justice and widening participation
• Improving student recruitment

The OU have found that (opposed to their implementation view) that OER is not necessarily about the media or content – when working with an overseas institution they found that it was more focussed on the research agenda.

Patrick then went on to talk about the wider ‘cultural mix’ of open educational resources. He showed the OpenCourseWare Consortium membership list as a pie chart, which clearly demonstrated that the UK is only a very small segment of this – with Spain, Japan and ‘affiliate’ members having the largest slices of this ‘pie’.

In terms of the OU’s OpenLearn, Patrick described how it has had 8m visitors from all over the world since its launch and described some of the impacts that this has had – especially in terms of getting content back from users:

• Content augmented by users
• Collaborations on content that have occurred as a result of it being openly available
• Translated versions of their content
• Entire courses developed by others have been deposited which have been created by gluing together content from a range of open sources including OpenLearn, MIT and elsewhere.

Following these three presentations, the discussion was then opened up to the audience – below is a summary of the questions and answers that took place:


Q1. When we say things are free for re-use for education but not for commercial uses – isn’t this commercial use anyway when universities use it with their students?

A. Patrick (OU): How we (the OU) dealt with this was by explaining what we meant. Just about every use of our content is acceptable. Commercial companies can use it – although they cannot sell the material as it is. It is important to prevent people thinking they can’t do things that they can.

Most people don’t read the licence. Most people think that content on the internet is free to use anyway. It’s also worth remembering that copyright is meaningless in some cultures. We should be in this game to get our material out there to be used by people with the imagination to use it.

Creative Commons have released a report about the use of ‘non-commercial’ which might be useful for you.

Q2. Patrick, you mentioned Africa in your presentation – what are your experiences?

A. Patrick (OU): Actually it is mainly about finding about ways to operate with one another and partnership. Don’t invent new barriers for yourself. Overall we have had very positive feedback and interest, but it is a difficult area to work with – especially around infrastructure issues.

Q3. How do you deal with the issue of jurisdictions of CC – there are even regional distinctions between England and Scotland, let alone further afield?

A. Patrick (OU): You grant rights to people based on where you are. It doesn’t matter where the user comes from.

Q4. I want the panel to note/make clear that even when rights to re-purpose content are granted, it doesn’t always mean that this is possible. For example, PDFs are not re-purposeable so although you ‘may’ re-purpose content the technical barriers mean you cannot.
It is difficult to even agree within the UK how materials can be used, so doing this for an international audience is going to be even harder. Is there a collection of use-cases for OERs, or a model that can be used?

A. Patrick (OU): The OU is looking at learning design and patterns to see how people are meaning materials to be used. We are also starting to look at how these are being used. Agree that it is important to communicate options for how content is used.

A: David K (JISC): In terms of use cases, there is currently a project (iChem3D ) which is part of the JISC Learning & Teaching Innovation Grant Programme that is investigating this issue and looking at how users are making use of their materials then repurposing their content around the use cases they are building up.

It’s also worth having a look at the final reports of the RePRODUCE programme projects who repurposed existing materials to create new modules.

Q5. How did Creative Commons save the OU £100,000 in licence fees?

A. Patrick (OU): Openlearn budgeted £100k for legal advice, but ended up using CC instead – thus the savings.

Q6. Does an open resource have to be completely culturally repurposeable? How is this achieved?

A. Heather W (JISC): The RePRODUCE programme found that content served up in smaller chunks was easier to re-use and repurpose – this could also make re-purposing easier for other cultures

A. Patrick (OU): Big chunks and little chunks of content can both work well for repurposing. It is the in-between chunks that are the difficulty. Need to give users the permission to strip out the assets so that if they want to use bits, then they can.

Q7. Why are we writing licences at all? What is the point?

A. Patrick (OU): Using a licence such as Creative Commons gives a clear message to the user about what they can do with it – without the need to find and check with the original author.

A. Heather W (JISC): Support Patricks point – one of the biggest challenges for the RePRODUCE projects was that for much of the material they located it was very often difficult to find out what they were allowed to do with it and who the original author was. Content that is clearly licensed makes the whole process much easier.

A. David Morris (OCEP, Coventry): Licences do more than just say that the content is open/free to use. They also enable the authors to have recognition for their work.

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