explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 11)

A crash course in ed tech and online learning for higher ed leaders

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is how challenging it can be for an institution to grapple with online learning and ed tech.  Leadership is so important and yet the top layer of an institution is generally not selected for their in depth knowledge of something many of us have dedicated our careers to. Even Directors of Teaching and Learning centres may specialize in other things, and have only an operational level understanding of ed tech and how it supports teaching and learning.

The online learning in Canadian universities and colleges 2018 preliminary data is pointing – with a few exceptions –  to the growth of online and blended in Canadian post secondary.  I think it’s fair to say that there’s an ongoing need for institutions to have a really good understanding of online learning and a strategy or plan to grow or support it.  However, often the people who have to make the strategic and resource decisions may only have a surface understanding of online learning and ed tech, and  in smaller institutions  they may be relying on a few known champions or people who have job titles with technology in it for information and guidance or to lead an online learning strategy process.

I’m starting to think there’s a need for a (unconventional) crash course for Deans, VPs and Presidents on leadership in online learning and ed tech.  This is tongue in cheek (sort of)  but is probably something that could insert itself into higher ed executive leadership training.

Topics or courses I would include are:

  1. The Basics – Online learning is many things
  2. The Vision – Being clear on why you do/want to do online learning and understanding the drivers for it
  3. The Data/evidence – Getting real about who your students are, and what they need
  4. The Consultation – Strategies for examining the internal and external environment and why you’ll probably need some liberating structures
  5. Academic innovation – What are open education, open technology, and open education practices and why should we care about open?
  6. The Systems – How to not to fall into the trap of conventional thinking or taking the path of least resistance
  7. Gurus, Evangelists and Privilege – Stop talking about millennials and digital natives:  Being critical about Edubuzz
  8. The Networks – You probably can’t do it alone:  Examining the sector and building networks and partnerships
  9. Innovation – It doesn’t have to be expensive:  Pilots, boundary objects, and creating fail safe spaces
  10. Sustainability – Getting clear on what you invest in, where you want to build capacity, and creative ways for doing that
  11. Strategy –It’s not all about the ed tech:  Building the culture you need to support the vision
  12. Evaluation – Keeping a check and balance on where you are putting your resources

What’s missing?

Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use

I’m that age where I can say I’ve been working in ed tech for 15 + years.  Like many of us, my life in ed tech in higher education began more or less with the LMS.  Through the years I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly with seemingly endless tentacles that the LMS brings to our discussions about teaching and learning and especially online learning in our institutions.

Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away.  We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS.  However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

That aside, I’ve observed (especially in smaller colleges) that so much institutional planning around online learning starts and ends with an LMS.  Online learning strategies are an opportunity to get clear about what online is trying to do and resources required.

What if it started by imagining a time before your institution had any ed tech?   If I was leading an online learning strategy, I would want the people involved to challenge themselves on some questions.  Why does the institution want online learning? What will it let you do?  What do you know about the students that is driving the need for an online learning strategy?

Is the online strategy covering all technology enabled learning and teaching?  Is blended/hybrid courses your thing?  Multi-access?  Is it a combination of blended and fully online?

Consider the following:

  • If you want to do open courses, you might not need an LMS
  • If you have applied programs that work closely with industry you might need more than an LMS
  • If you are doing primarily distance education you might need an LMS
  • If you are doing multi-access you might not need an LMS
  • If you are doing blended/hybrid learning you might not need an LMS
  • If seamless integration with your student information system is needed and a locked down IT environment are your reality, then you might need an LMS (but ideally you would challenge this in your online strategy discussions)

Explore how the landscape, of educational technology has changed since your institution first got an LMS.  If you care about student data privacy or don’t have a lot of resources to sink into one tool, take a serious look at open technologies that aren’t LMS’s  but could support teaching and learning in interesting ways:  Mattermost (student discussions, online group work), WordPress with any combo of extensions that make it course-like (course content and open courses, e-portfolios), Pressbooks with H5P (interactive course manuals or textbooks, or self-directed learning), to name a few.  Consider what needs to be enterprise, and what can be loosely supported for a few programs and departments.  Build the need for flexibility and a tolerance for ambiguity across the institution as part of the culture you want to emerge from your online strategy.

Instead of sinking money into vendor products, invest it in people to support a new kind of ed tech ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open and Invisible Labour

I had the chance to attend SFU’s OA week panel on Open But Not Free: Invisible Labour in Open Scholarship.  I love a session title that suggests there’s going to be some critical engagement around open because I think it’s important to keep advancing the field.  I appreciated that this was an almost all female panel, with a really good representation of perspectives that included an international graduate student, a faculty member from a research institution, a faculty member from a polytechnic university, and an internationally focussed scholar from an organization that does incredible work in open in developing countries.

Invisible labour in higher education is real and we encounter it at all levels of the organization and at all stages of program development and delivery.  But I was left thinking that open labour was being  conflated with existing (and arguably longstanding)  higher ed problems.  Grad students working too hard for too little pay?  That is a higher ed problem.  Faculty, especially adjuncts and sessionals are too overloaded and can’t be asked to do one more thing? That is a higher ed problem.  Challenges with who owns IP rights for any academic work?  That is a higher ed problem.  I found myself playing a language game, substituting open for “geography” or “course development” or “textbook selection” or “research” and instead of pointing to a critical discussion that needs to happen about open, it underlined a need for a critical discussion about higher ed labour practices.

But within these tensions lie considerable opportunities.  First of all, as one of the panelists and several audience members pointed out, open can benefit students, scholarly communities, knowledge dissemination and creation, and in many cases –  in particular publicly funded institutions – it’s the right thing to do.  Open gives us an opportunity to think differently about how we do things and why we do them the way we do, whether it’s how departmental politics and practices result in increased or unfair distribution of labour, whether  it’s how teaching and learning centres and libraries may be underused by faculty or departments who are layering on open, or whether the whole idea of open as an add-on, as opposed to a replacement for inefficient academic practices, should be challenged.  Maybe open can be the catalyst that gets us thinking about how to address higher ed invisible labour, but I’m not convinced it should be seen as the problem.

 

#OER18

I’ve had a few days to percolate over the amazing experience of #oer18.  I attended this conference for the first time last year and #oer17 was so transformative that I opted for another round of a small conference in an interesting venue with lots of provocative and critical conversations about open.  This year didn’t disappoint, and I was so energized by getting to spend time with some amazing and smart women doing great things in this space.

Locating our discussions in a more historical context:  There was a strong current of history at this conference, which was convenient for Viv and I who were presenting on the historical branches of open .   Lorna Campbell opened the conference with a thoughtful keynote that took a trip down memory’s lane of OER conferences to illustrate the continual negotiation taking place in OER and open over the years and pointing to some considerations for the future, namely more inclusion, representation and diversity of people and perspectives.    This resonated with many of us and extended conversations that seem to be happening on Twitter and elsewhere.  It also reminded me of a quote that Viv and I included in our presentation:

The advent of a movement like open education brings with it examination and criticism of what has gone before, of what is going on contemporaneously, and, perhaps most important, an examination and criticism of itself. Perhaps the next stage in the cycle will be of one self-criticism and self-correction.

Barth, 1977 Beyond open education

Barth, R. S. (1977). Beyond open education. The Phi Delta Kappan, 58(6), 489-492.

Purist or Pragmatist?:  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing David Wiley keynote at least three times, and this keynote was a fresh, reflective journey down open lane, beginning with the open source movement in the US.  What  particularly appreciated was how his talk was punctuated with slides with reflective questions for the audience.  Some of them provoked some good on and offline conversation which is never a bad thing.   David introduced an idea that open consists of purists or pragmatists, a thought that I contest because I think it creates a false dichotomy.  (I somehow remembered it as idealist or pragmatist, since I’m not quite sure what an open purist is and whether it sits on the opposite end of the continuum).

I spend a lot of my time on the ‘pragmatic’ side of open in my institution where the focus on getting it done and getting on with open takes priority. Yet, I’ve been in this field long enough to have observed that critical conversations are important to advance the field and I believe this means we have to get a bit uncomfortable and less precious in our discourse around open.  The purist/idealist side of me says that while great work and measurable impact is happening, there’s substantial room for theoretical and conceptual expansion.  However, I was reminded of again of a historical quote I’d come across which seemed to underline the tenuous balance between too much ideology and too much pragmatism.  (This is from Mai, 1978:  Open Education: From Ideology to Orthodoxy)

Locating our open discussions in a more global context:  We have Momodou Sallah to thank for gently blowing our minds in his keynote provocatively entitled Pedagogies of Disruption as Resistance: Developing Counter Narratives Through Open Educational Practice.  If there’s any confusion about what ideology + pragmatism can look like in open, Momodou gave us good food for thought.  Critical global south perspectives missing? Start a journal .  Concerned about global inequity?  Start a foundation and engage students in a “social enterprise which brings the worlds of theory and practice closer through education and public engagement, international development and publishing of critical Southern perspectives”.

Broadening our lens for the benefit of open:  I had the chance to be part of a Virtually Connecting session with David Wiley and Martin Weller (and briefly Sheila MacNeil) following David’s Day 2 keynote.  By this time I had seen many wonderful sessions and had some great chats with so many people.  In particular, I’d had a chance to see Henry Trotter’s presentation (the co-authors weren’t there) on the great ROER4D research and found myself reflecting on what creation and reuse means in a global south/global north context.  (for the record, I’m challenged by the north /south distinction because I think there are souths in the north).  What does it mean to have OER created in the South reused in the North?  Does this happen, and if not why not?  The North is very good at, and well positioned as creators, but is there a responsibility to be more curious and active in learning from and integrating these efforts into our own practices in the North?

Some of these thoughts found their way into this Virtually Connecting session, where I found myself wondering whether we are as far along as we think we are in the stories we construct about our open movement.  OER18 gave the space for new stories, for new avenues to explore and for that I am grateful.

#OER18 and some historical branches of open

I’m headed to #OER18 in a few days where I’ll be presenting alongside Viv Rolfe (with contributions from Tanya Dorey-Alias who sadly can’t be there) on the historical branches of open.  We connected about this last year, having a shared fondness for things that we forgot about open and it’s various branches or tentacles, and our short presentation will delve into a few of them namely open classrooms, open pedagogy, and self-directed learning.

As I stated in this post from a couple of years ago, Viv really kick started this at Open Ed a few years back, and it inspired me to look into the history of open pedagogy.  The interest in Paquette’s framing of this is the 70s seems to be substantial and is one of the most frequently visited posts I have on this little blog.  I worked with our library to get a copy of volume one of his book (not easy), where he expands on the topic in more detail than the article I shared.  I think it’s in the best interest of those of us exploring this topic to have access to this full volume, so I’ve scanned and posted it here.  Paquette Tome 1

It’s going to require a fair amount of cut and paste into Google translate but if that seems daunting it’s worth perusing the table of contents.

 

 

Decentralized structures and the innovation agenda

In a few of my posts on innovation, I’ve talked about the role that teaching and learning centres have in supporting an institutional innovation agenda, and where they can run into trouble.  In my last post, I argued that without proper prioritization, innovation can become an add-on watered down initiative that the centre is tasked with.

I also wrote in one of my earlier posts about finding  the innovators in the institution, who are likely scattered across programs and the importance of recognizing and building on what they are doing.  I’m essentially advocating for a bottom up and top down approach to innovation with a goal of healthy and meaningful convergence.

What if you don’t have a centre and function more as a decentralized structure? Can’t you just collect all the innovators and connect them with a community of practice and provide some funding?  Yes and no.  In my opinion, it depends on the level of institutional ambition for innovation.  Decentralized structures can work when projects are small in scale, don’t required specialized expertise, and economies of scale aren’t important to the institution.  They may provide Deans with more flexible resourcing and prioritization.  But they also introduce a certain amount of risk to the institution, and if innovation goals are ambitious, or if e-learning is being scaled up, there is a inevitable chain of events that follow.

First, as things scale up, Deans are tasked with finding more resources for people to bring on to support the activity. This almost always introduces a new silo structure within the institution and there is a limit to the roles and expertise you can bring on with the resources within a project, school or faculty.  The positions usually end up being the jack of all trades type, which can be quite efficient if your e-learning is of the bread and butter vanilla variety.  If the innovation agenda is looking for a significant shift beyond status quo, this type of structure becomes unrealistic to maintain since it is limited by the amount of resources and skills that can be obtained with those resources to meet the objectives.  Sometimes this gap is met with short term contractors (where collective agreements permit).  This can work if you have a long term relationship with the contractors, but again it introduces some risk and disadvantages. First, contractors aren’t always available when you need them. Secondly, reliance on contractors means you may be paying more and aren’t developing and retaining any long term, skilled capacity.

Eventually you may end up with 3 or 4 different mini and silo-ed centres scattered across the institution.  So what’s the problem?  First, you end up with a have and have not situation that begins to feel competitive over time.  Faculty or School A has more resources than Faculty or School B, so Faculty A can do more and scale up.  Importantly,  the silo centres, due to the minimal resourcing, are usually heads down in the day to day activities they support for the School or Faculty.  The innovation agenda of the institution (provided it’s been clearly defined) is no longer a priority.

It comes down to whose innovation agenda is it?  If it’s institutional, then you need a horizontal structure that works with Schools/Faculties towards that agenda.  If it’s a School or Faculty agenda, then the ambition will likely be smaller in scale  unless it has the resources to scale it up.  And if it’s a small institution with limited resources, it is very difficult to achieve economies of scale in a decentralized structure.

 

 

Prioritizing Innovation in the Organizational Structure

image from https://smithsmm.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/quote-featured.jpg It’s been a while since I wrote a series about the topic of innovation in higher education.  Here they are from 2015:

About those innovation jobs…7 Rules About Innovation

First steps in Creating a culture of innovation in higher education – Figuring out what innovation will mean

Removing barriers to innovation – the teaching and learning centre and third spaces

Some ideas for creating a culture of innovation

Considerations for ed tech and innovation

In preparation for being invited a second time (thanks Mark!) to facilitate a discussion on Institutional Organization and Support  in the Planning and Managing Technologies in Higher Education course,  I’ve found myself thinking about organizational structures and achieving higher ed innovation goals.  Since I lead a teaching and learning centre, I care a lot about the role a teaching and learning centre can have in innovation.  But I also recognize that sometimes centres can impede innovation and there are reasons why that happens.

For starters, teaching and learner centres generally exist to support some aspect of the academic strategy or plan.  But academic strategies have a 3-5 year life and centres generally outlive academic plans.  If a centre has been in existence for a while, sometimes it evolves into a well-oiled machine where program reviews, faculty development, and the support and dissemination of good teaching practices are all part of the centre’s activities.  These are bread and butter activities that indisputably support ANY academic plan and therefore the prioritization of these kinds of activities can go unchallenged. Staff in the centre were also likely hired based on their abilities to support  these things and the centre becomes very skilled at doing them.

Ambitious e-learning or innovation agendas can throw a wrench into the centre’s well oiled machine.  For starters, the ambition doesn’t always match the existing resources and centres may or may not have the right staff to lead or implement the innovation agenda.  Secondly, without clear direction and expectations from the executive, centres may be tasked with doing innovation in addition to all the other excellent work they are doing.    What results is an initiative or two added onto the centre’s existing activities without the appropriate ground work required to have long term, sustainable change.

I’m of the opinion that ambitious innovation agendas actually require sustained and dedicated leadership and groundwork.  I’ve already written about what this means in terms of high level steps.  Operationally, something like expanding or shifting the ed tech infrastructure (very important) at the institution to meet the innovation goals usually  requires countless meetings between the centre’s director and the CIO or any technology steering committees, stakeholders,  and the executive.  Since e-learning innovation usually (hopefully!) results in innovation in program delivery, there are additional tie-ins with registration, student support, faculty development, and learning design.

So what’s the problem? If you are a well resourced institution you can create a dedicated centre focussed on e-learning and innovation  (ideally one  that is not divorced from the core centre)  to take on the agenda until it settles into a new normal.  But many institutions can’t afford to do this which leads to the centre being overloaded and the innovation being water-down or slight variations of status quo.

This is where I think centres and institutions run into trouble.  The institution has a role in being clear on the priorities and understanding what activities in the centre need to be parked in order to achieve the innovation agenda.  This isn’t to say that one can’t bleed into the other…for example there will likely be a faculty development component to innovation but I think it’s unrealistic for less-resourced centres to be doing scholarship of teaching and learning, indigenization, internationalization, and e-learning innovation concurrently (several of which are popular items on academic plans these days) .  You run the risk of being a jack of all trades and master of none and you may end up a teaching and learning centre that appears to lack focus.

 

 

OER in other languages – a project update of sorts

It’s been 5 weeks since I started the Other Language OER site and what started as  part whim, part experiment, part inspired by following the #opencon stream, has evolved into an itch that that gets me on a daily basis.  My goal was to post one OER per week from another language than English but after 5 weeks there are 12 OERs in 12 different languages, one of them submitted by someone other than myself (thanks @tomonagashima !)

The background and rationale for the site emerged from some longer deliberations and an even longer one over here  and I get that it’s really a very limited audience who might be interested in this.  But I’m learning a lot in my almost daily practice which incidently  feels like a 15 minute treasure hunt I try and do first thing in the morning.  Perhaps the biggest learning is that the resource itself isn’t the most interesting thing, but it’s how the resource is found, accessed, and ultimately what can be said about the broader OER landscape that is most interesting.

The first few posts were focussed on the resource itself and I wasn’t too explicit about my intention for posting it.  But every post has an intention and observation, so in more recent posts I’ve tried to include those, since that’s the interesting part.

For example, my first post was text modules for a grad course on India and the World, and the purpose of starting with this one was to demonstrate that if you wanted to teach a course in say, Indian or South Asian politics, why not extend a search to include regions of the world where they might have a particular insight that might not be available or visible to us in English.  Similarly, if we covet the Finnish K-12 education system so much, looking for K-12 material in Finnish seems like a great way to extend a search and build on their efforts.  Of course, obviously its difficult to transport a Finnish K-12 textbook into our own K-12 curriculum. First it has to be translated. Then it has to line up with our curriculum.  But if the potential of OER is truly in the remixing and adapting, then we need to set aside the difficulty of translation and localizing from other languages and practice what we preach where it makes sense.  In some cases, especially where there are already resources that have been created by recognized experts in recognized countries, it seems ludicrous to even bother starting from scratch.

Of course, the 5 R’s tells us that an open license opens possibilities for new educational practices (OER enabled pedagogy if you will).  What are the practices we want to see?  First of all, I’d love to see K-12 open textbooks in Canada for reasons I expressed here.  Imagine if an open textbook on Canadian History, for example,  could be remixed (rewritten?) by Indigenous educators.  Or imagine if students had to compare the North American chapter of an open Slovenian Geography textbook with their own high school Pearson edition?

Textbooks aside, there are other things I’ve learned from these past five weeks, some of them more obvious than others:

  1. Google translate is incredibly helpful
  2. Some languages, despite have a large population of speakers,  turn up no open resources (eg. Swahili).  Admittedly, this could be the fault of the searcher.
  3. Large pdfs don’t translate easily, as Google gets overloaded
  4. Some languages produce better translations than others
  5. If you want your OER to be reused, or simply translated, it really needs to be provided in multiple formats and not in a proprietary package (e.g. i-books that don’t download). Also, when said proprietary package company disappears, what happens?
  6. When a course is all text, there’s a fine line between a course and a textbook. Point being, if looking for an open textbook a repackaged open course might do the trick
  7. There are some great resources on sites that are dying a slow death, probably as a result of short term funding.  Reusing and mirroring are important to maintain the life of these efforts.
  8. There are some fascinating cultural insights you gain from looking at OERs in other languages.
  9. Lesser used languages may have the most to gain from being more visible due to open licenses.
  10. There are no shortage of ancillary resources out there for the STEM type disciplines. Cf. German , Chinese, and Portuguese
  11. We really don’t need any more math textbooks- those seem to be the most frequently encountered subject in my searches
  12. Some countries are doing open courseware really well. C.f Delft (Holland) and Hokkaido (Japan).

A final shout out to Alan Levine aka  @cogdog for creating the SPLOT template I use to create the site. It really is the simplest WordPress site you can have, and by allowing me (and anybody else who wants to)  to quickly upload and publish without logging in and futzing around, it actually makes doing this on an almost daily basis a possibility.  If you want to test drive it, grab an OER in another language and submit it over here.

OER and the language problem (part 2) – the status and function rationale

Critical scholarship ought to analyse the strong forces that are at pains to create the impression that English serves all the world’s citizens equally well, or those who uncritically assume this is so, when this is manifestly not the case. (Phillipson, 2001)

 

In my first post on this topic I put forward some high level statements on why I think OER has a language problem.  The “problem” may largely be one of awareness and as the movement evolves into its adolescence I think it will be increasingly important to surface the intersection of language, OER, and social justice.

My specific concern is with the uni-directional nature of OER from English to other languages.  English as a language holds considerable economic and social power, which has obviously facilitated its emergence as a global language.  This emergence is perhaps neither good nor evil, but carries with it some consequences that are worthy of consideration and have been documented for some time.  The positions on this topic range from moderate to extreme, with scholars like Tove Skuttnab-Kangas dedicating decades to topics such as language rights,  linguicide and the consequences of colonialism to more functional perspectives such as WF Mackey’s framework for understanding prestige, function, and status of language in relation to language vitality.

I was a grad student of Mackey’s at Université Laval in the 90s when he was already well into his seventies.  Mackey ran a internationally well known centre on research in language planning but also had been an advisor to many nations on language planning and policy, and as the story goes, had played an important role in shifting Quebec from English to French in the areas of education, government and the workplace in the 60s and 70s.  What was interesting about Mackey was that he was very academic about his approach, adopting a neutral stance that leaned on the science of language planning, and thus avoiding the inevitably polarizing debates that occur when language planning or revitalization is a topic.

This seems like a good place to start in attempting to be critical about the uni-directional nature of OERs.

Language Vitality = Prestige, Function and Status

In Mackey’s framework, the vitality of a  language can be thought of in terms of three buckets – prestige, status and function.  As he describes it “the essential difference between prestige, function, and status is the difference between past, present and future”.

Prestige:  depends on its record , or what people think its record to have been.  In some cases this is largely symbolic.

Function:  what people can actually do with the language

Status:  the potential for people do do something with the language, eg. legally, culturally, economically, politically and demographically.

“The functions of a language, as defined as what one in fact does with it, can be directly observed in the language behaviour of the population of any area. The status  of a language can often be modified by changing its functions.”

So what does this have to do with OER and open?

Status is also “what one can do with a language also depends on what  is available in it – books, films, and other cultural products (cultural status)” .  Demographic status is important in the cultural production since it is tied to economic power to some extent.  This is how Mackey relates the two in relation to literacy (note – he was writing this in 1976)

 ” the production of reading material – books, newspapers, magazines – whether undertaken by the state or by private enterprise, is an economic undertaking.  Literate people who can afford to produce and market books in their language promote it’s usefulness in as much as people buy and read their products.  Being economically dominant, their language is likely to be that of trade, commerce and industry, and as such a valuable language.  The same people can afford to travel and to invest, thus expanding abroad both their activities and their language “

It’s interesting to consider this quote by replacing reading material with OER, and situating it in a context of knowledge production and digital divide.  Importantly, the more functions a language has, the more status it will have. This is not a problem per se, unless it is being done at the expense of the other languages, which some argue is in the case of English (more on this in Ingrid Pillar’s book, see also Phillipson ).  We see this in the growth of academic publishing in English (and resulting inequalities), the   growth and availability of English language university programs in nations where English is not the traditional language of higher education, or in the massive English as a Foreign language teaching industry –  all are evidence of an increase in the function and therefore status of English.

The critical question for the open movement to consider is what is gained or lost when we feed the function/status machine of English.  For example, is it a detriment to scientific knowledge or is it a response to an economic necessity?  Who benefits and who is left out?  Does open benefit when it is multi-directional or is the predominance of English as a global language facilitating our efforts? My assessment leans towards the former – hence this project on OER in other languages- but I’m aware more scholarship and discussion is required.  As a parting thought, consider Skutnabb-Kanga’s (2000) distinction between an diffusion of language paradigm and an ecology of language paradigm.

So What’s the Takeaway?

The story of French in Quebec in the pre-1960s revitalization is one of a local French majority where French lost status, function, and ultimately prestige to an English minority.  This was reversed through government intervention and language planning, but continues to be an area that English Canada has difficulty understanding but makes total sense from a Mackey framework perspective.   The important takeaway from this example is that the framework not only describes what is happening, but also gives us some mechanisms for shifting it if we choose.  We have some agency in the open community to care about language planning and insert it in our conversations about OER and social justice.

 

Language and the OER problem

I have about 3 posts I could write about this topic and eventually I might get to my 2 half-baked drafts and book reviews, but the topic is complex and multifaceted, so let’s see where this goes.

One of the shifts in OER movement that I’ve really appreciated has been the thread of declaring social justice as part of what we do in the OER space.  I’m hoping that as we evolve we can remember that social justice is inherently tied to language which has been so well argued in Ingrid Pillar’s recent book:  Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice.

OER has a language problem.

  1.  The majority of OERs are in English. This is both a barrier and an opportunity.

A major challenge for delivery of OER on mobile technology globally is that most currently available OER are in English, and learners in many countries do not read or speak English. However, some countries see students completing courses in English as an opportunity for them to learn or improve their English language skills. 

2.  It’s not as simple as translating from English to a local language.  This requires time, resources, and a fair amount of skill.

Revision also involves a substantial amount of thought into the process of localization. In the case of revision-as-translation, the linguistic concern is of primary importance. An often-ignored barrier to remix and revision is the English-language and western bias of the Internet and particularly OER.

3. A language problem was identified by UNESCO in 2012.

Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts. Favour the production and use of OER in local languages and diverse cultural contexts to ensure their relevance and accessibility. Intergovernmental organisations should encourage the sharing of OER across languages and cultures, respecting indigenous knowledge and rights. (UNESCO, 2012)

4.  There are language technology limitations when it comes to OERs.

Connecting and creating resources depends on the availability of tools that have interfaces in local languages, which is not the case for much software. These are important barriers when considering who is remixing and the limitations a wide audience has in engaging in OER-related practices.

5.  We spend very little time searching, reusing, adapting ,and quite frankly, amplifying OERs that have been created in languages other than English.  No research to link to this, just an observation that is open to debate.

Fortunately, there are frameworks for looking at questions of language in relation to social and political contexts.  The one I’m most familiar with it W.F. Mackey’s which I recommend  as an easy to read introduction to his framework:  Determining the Status and Function of Languages in Multinational Societies.  This framework explains how #1-5 happens, and provides insight into how to shift it.

Ultimately, I’d like to put on the table two provocations:

  1.  Reusing and Revising OERs is an important proposition, but let’s not overstate the ease of doing this without considering sociolinguistic realities and the fact that this is currently a largely unequal transaction that favours English over other languages.
  2. Well resourced OER initiatives favour the creation and diffusion of OERs in English, as opposed to, for example, translating and localizing OER that originate in other languages.  Or supporting the language revitalization of lesser used, and possibly endangered languages as a result of colonization (e.g. indigenous languages).
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