I was delighted to be asked by Christine Geith, Karen Vignare and their team at Michigan State University to attend and facilitate at the Open Knowledge Convening linked to the AgShare2 project (which is supported by the Gates Foundation).
I’ve long been an advocate of the way AgShare has taken almost wonkish open education ideas around co-creation, student created content and multiple roots to discovery and applied them expertly to solve a pressing real-world issue. Openly available information and guidance to support farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need to have. There are literally no other ways that this vital information can be widely shared.
With a co-ordinating team at MSU, and support from organisations like OER Africa, the bulk of content creation is done by MSc students at partner institutions:
- Haramaya University (Ethiopia)
- Makerere University (Uganda)
- Moi University (Kenya)
- United States International University (Kenya)
Students work directly with farmers to capture and reflect good practices, which are then released as case studies (and in other formats) for the benefit of all.
As you would expect from Christine and her team, the event incorporated delegates and presenters from a range of backgrounds and from across the world. These included those working on the project, and others active in related work. I particularly enjoyed Peter Bannatyne’s presentation on OER impact measures, which prompted a very interesting discussion, and Dr Dileepkumar Guntuku’s presentation on delivering OER to mobile phones using voice and SMS. His live demonstration of the VoIP Drupal module was an amazing reminder of how very basic technology can be used to deliver information in remote areas.
I had been asked to facilitate a session on quality assurance in OER release, which meant I was able to talk about a lot of UKOER work where projects allowed students and end-users input into the design and delivery of resources. I was keen to emphasise that our experience had been that projects had been largely keener to use existing quality processes, for instance
- Existing institutional processes around teaching quality assurance, where resources are used in formal teaching before being released.
- Existing web-copy processes, where resources are included on institutional websites
- Peer-review (either formally for research-based resources, or informally where resources are published on blogs or social media.)
- Authorial reflections and review – where academics and content creators use the occasion of open release to critically reflect and improve on their resources.
- And assessed work, where materials are created by students and assessed for academic credit.
There are different quality requirements for different models of OER release – for instance a project aiming to change cultures and promote open academic practice would need a very different approach to a project where content is commissioned and then released openly. Part of quality (and monitoring, and dissemination…) plans depend on why we are releasing material in the first place.
Sustainability came across as a another factor here – more complex and specialised (and possibly more robust) processes added an overhead cost which may be fine for project work, but could negatively impact the progression to unfunded work post-project. There were a lot of interesting proposals to build and sell value-added services on top of open media – there is a lot of mileage in this, but it rather goes against the reason a lot of people are attracted to become involved in open release in the first place.
After the meeting, I was pleased to have chance to catch up with Emily Puckett Rogers and Greg Austic, two openness advocates based in and around Ann Arbor, MI. One of the great points that came out of those conversations was the way that the expectations of the culture of universities was changing amongst those motivated to apply to them. Prospective students are beginning to expect openness as a default position from their institution, and this is a trend that can only become more important. Perhaps it is time to see institutions have the vision to make a high-profile commitment to openness?