Tuesday, 23 April 2013

From OER to cMOOC to github: A proposal for Open Education

I have been a learning technologist for 10 years and in that time I have seen at least 3 VLE silos being emptied or recycled or replaced. Change is inevitable when it comes to technology, for sure, but is this the type of change we want, especially as we interact with different learning systems as we continue our professional development. We silo off our knowledge in different platforms and have to remember where such and such resource is, or where so and so had that interesting discussion when we come to plan our new lessons/ resources/ courses.

I want to tell a story about OER and make a proposal against the silo-isation of online knowledge.

When I first came into contact with OER, back in 2002, the buzz seemed to be about resource sharing (re-useable learning objects). I was working creating flash animation 'learning objects' at a healthcare faculty, and the talk was of sharing, and sharing alike. Concepts of 'creative commons' became widespread, and there has been much education on the different derivatives of creative commons, which inspired some people to share their resources with popular OER engines such as JORUM. JORUM is very popular in the further education sector, and the content is free (as in free to download and use), but it is not AS free (as in free to modify and contribute back as a derivative of). When I was designing learning objects, I doubted the objects I was creating were completely re-useable off the shelf. Most would require a bit of modification before being re-used.

Note 1: Always give source files to repositories like JORUM to enable re-mixing.
Note 2: In FE it seems many good resources are often shared without any attribution.

Main Point: OER repositories are still knowledge silos, and a true conception of 'open' would not silo-ise knowledge but give capability to use/ re-use/re-share. This is the 'library model' of OER, and uniquely deals with 'resources' in the traditional sense (powerpoints, pdfs, swfs etc.)

Others said: OER should not all about the resources, it's also about the interactions we make with each other, so the platforms need to be 'social'...

Recently, the concept of a cMOOC has emerged. What is a cMOOC? It seems to me to be a cross between a course (in that it has a narrative) and a community of practice (in that it works by networking, co-creation and open interchange of ideas). They are unique platform-wise in that they encourage the participants to use their own webspaces and blogs to collaborate, so in one respect are moving the line of 'open' a little by at least letting the users create their own silos under their own control (keeping all their MOOCs in one place), and then use the standard networking tools to 'follow' or 'syndicate' others' silos for future posts.

The ocTEL MOOC has a unique tool which scrapes the web for '#ocTEL' and syndicates the links into it's 'reader' app. This is another move forward in that the silos of knowledge within different users' webspaces are syndicated to the ocTEL webpage. So ocTEL becomes a meta-silo of knowledge in this respect, and I can 'star' the articles that are of interest to me, so I have my personal silo of others' silos.

I think it has certain limitations though, which I would like to address in my proposal for the de-silo-isation of knowledge and the full opening of educational content. This is where I think the github approach is needed.

Github allows you to make modifications to a codebase, and contribute it back to the overall project. OER repositories don't give you this 'linking' or 'derivative' capability, which would be nice, but, as some people rightly pointed out, learning cannot be reduced to resources and people should have ownership over the spaces in which they co-create, so the centralised OER silo project runs into further problems...

In the spirit of Actor-Network theory, I do not think we should make a distinction between the interactions with resources perhaps through an OER repository and the interactions with other people perhaps through their blogs. I think we should consider all these 'learning transactions'. In online learning, these transactions can always (usually?) be reduced to a digital asset.

My proposal is for a system to enable tagging, collection and sharing of 'learning transactions' and the capability to recognise derivatives of a transaction and where that fits in the 'tree'.

For example, each resource that I 'star' in the ocTEL reader should be hashed and scooped into my online learning 'portfolio' in the github type learning platform. This would also give other users the capability to add this transaction to their own 'portfolio',  and it all adds up to giving any user the capability to create their own courses out of arrangements of public 'transactions'. In this respect the difference between my proposed system and existing repositories is that my proposal is 'horizontal' (if thats the right word) whereas the 'library system' has a traditional vertical 'order' to it.

But doesn't the 'edu-github' just become another silo?
Not if there is a standard behind the process of turning some online content into a 'transaction'. The standard could be adopted by mainstream VLEs as a method of importing content.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions about this...