explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Tag: OER (page 1 of 2)


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.

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).

A few moments from ICDE 2017 #worldconf17

I skipped Open Ed  this year to attend the ICDE World Conference  in Toronto.  The last time I attended ICDE was eight years ago  in Maastricht.  I brought my daughter, who was 5. She got sick in the bathroom 15 minutes before my presentation, then sat on the floor and did crafts while I presented.  (Somebody took  a photo of her which still lives in the conference archives. Check out that mom-purse full of kid stuff).  Of the things that I remember, the conference was held in a very nice venue but there was no food at all for the four days.

I  remember being impressed by how  it was very international.

Back to this year.  I’m not sure where else you can have the convergence of distance eduction, open education, OER, and online learning all at one conference.  I learned that ICDE has been around for 86 years which is quite remarkable and perhaps underlines the important roots of distance education.

I attended a session at every time slot, listened carefully, and with one exception, didn’t take any notes.  I’m left with memorable moments, although every session was excellent and deserves to be mentioned.  The organization was impeccable, the food was plentiful and delicious, and the hospitality was outstanding.  Maxim Jean-Louis stood at the exit of the conference and was there to personally shake the hands of all 1400 participants from 95 countries who attended. Very classy and an incredible act to follow.

For starters, I appreciated that most of the sessions I attended, including keynotes, were largely panels and no PowerPoints.  This was refreshing.  The Day 1 keynote panel resonated with themes of agency, equity, education for good (Stephen Downes wrote a great summary. The Day 2 keynote panel not so much. In fact, I felt like a toddler being chastised for not playing nice with the mean kids in the sandbox.  From this panel I remember that ‘students don’t care about privacy’, and that higher ed needs to talk and learn from private sector providers and training types ’cause they know stuff. (For the record, we regularly attend DevLearn, the most vendor driven corporate training conference I can think of, and most of us in the public higher ed sector have no doubt spent countless hours reflecting on tensions and questions of public and private).  A note for keynote speakers at international conferences – be careful about gross generalizations that are relevant to your national reality, especially if said keynote panel represents collectively one country.

I should add that the vastly different keynote panels was probably a stroke of organization genius in presenting us with two vastly different flavours of discourse. This is healthy, even if it made me uncomfortable.

Some other memorable moments:

I learned from a Stephen Downes presentation that he has a sense of humour that I really appreciate, even if I didn’t understand where his head was with AI.  He was very witty.

I attended a Tony Bates session on quality in online learning thinking I was already fairly knowledgable on the subject and ended up taking pages of notes. Tony has a great conference summary over here.

I learned that Brazil has an incredible website of more than 60 open, short course modules for continuing professional education for doctors, in Portuguese and Spanish.  Unfortunately, I’ve been trying for DAYS to get registered because one of the fields requires something called a CPF, but they have been friendly and are working on it.

I learned that Canada is falling behind in some areas I don’t want to mention here, but let’s just say that some federally funded health education projects are largely uninspired.

I learned that my former UBC desk mate, Adnan Qayyum, is a research rock star and now occupies Michael Moore’s former professorship at Penn State.  His comparative international education work is fascinating, and one of the tidbits I can’t stop sharing is that 50% of Russian Higher Ed students are in distance education.  That’s a lot of potential OER, if we can move to bridge the distance education as OER gap.

I learned that the ROER4D is a fantastic research project that I need to dig more deeply into and continue to follow.

As I do when I go to conference cities, I try and check out a gallery or two. I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario and got my fill of Group of 7, and ‘discovered’ David Milne. But a highlight was checking out the newly opened Galerie de Bellefeuille where the nicest private gallery employee I have ever encountered (thanks Ray!) led me around the works and pleasantly and unpretentiously chatted art.  This included pulling up Drake’s page on my instagram  to show me the bedazzled buddha he had purchased the day before.  In case you’re intrigued, it looks like one of these.



Innovation in Higher Education…and other blasts from the past

I had the pleasure to be a keynote at CNIE 2017 in Banff last week, 14 years after first attending the very first iteration of this conference in the exact same location. This year’s theme was Exploring our past, present and future, which could not have been a more perfect theme to talk about a topic I’ve become quite interested in over the past year.  Last year I began looking into the past of concepts like open pedagogy/pédagogie ouverte  and delving into this past has really helped me gain some perspective on how we are currently talking about open.  Preparing for the CNIE keynote gave me a great opportunity to delve  more deeply into the past of other concepts such as innovation, ed tech, and open in particular.

The point of this presentation was to take a journey to the past, the 1960s and 70s for the most part, and talk about current day open, ed tech, and  innovation in relation to the past.

We started with the Then or Now game. I put up 4 slides of different quotes from 1960-present and you had to guess whether the quote was from the past or present.  As expected, this wasn’t an easy one to guess, the point being that a lot of the past rhetoric on open, ed tech, or innovation sounds very familiar to those of us who’ve been in the field for a while.  You can see the quotes in the slide deck, but the references for those slides follow:

  1.  The Erosion of Innovation in Higher Education, 1970. ( A dissertation written by the future president of Buffalo State College, or was it really written by Gail, his wife?). note: you need access to pro quest to access this one, full citation here:JOHNSTONE, DONALD BRUCEUniversity of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969. 7001794.

2.  The automated university: bots and drones amid the dreaming spires, 2017

3.  Technology and Education: who controls?, 1970


And my personal favourite:

4.  Radical Innovation in a Conventional Framework: Problems and Prospects, 1977

The point of the Then or Now game is that there are many recognizable tropes in those quotes, and what I learned in looking at 1960-1980 is that for every gushing Chronicle or Ed Surge article you can find a 1960s or 70s equivalent.  Of course, there is both great comfort and room for critique in that observation.

“The crisis facing higher education in our nation has been mentioned so often that I fear we may tend to consider it an old story. It is not.“

In 1963, where this quote is from, it turns out there actually was a crisis in higher education in the 60s and 70s. What we learn from reading about this time period is that the drivers for the crisis, perceived or real, are not dissimilar to today.

For example, there is a pressure of numbers- in an OECD report in 1968 Change and innovation in higher education pointed to the pressure of numbers (changing demographics) as a result of growth in population and demand for greater equality – for example, I was surprised to learn that in UK between 1961 and 1968 24 new universities were created.

Also noted is the driver of scientific and tech progress: “new disciplines must be introduced; boundaries between the old ones become artificial; the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies has to be taken into account”.  Those same drivers appear in this Huffington post article from 2015.

I then continue with more echoes from the past including:

  1.  Disruption 1960s style: “ there is a chorus of exhortations – articles beginning ‘Higher Education should’ or ‘must’”. From 1967 – Innovation: Processes, Practice and Research p.38.
  2. No shortage of buzzwords and technology solutionism: “technological revolution” is a term “used with great abandon and little definition”. From 1968 Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities.
  3. And no shortage of skepticism – the newest trend becomes embraced or critiqued:  “in spite of or because of its obscure meaning, individualized instruction is held up as a panacea for the ills of education”– 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities
  4. And of course, the obligatory tech as distraction reference: “Kids who are used to having blaring transistor radios around hem every waking moment have trained themselves to ignore anything coming into their ears, and therefore hear very little of what comes out the the earphones they we are in the language lab” : 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities

One of the greatest higher education innovations was the Open University. I find it curious that during the MOOC mania, there was little discussion about how open universities were a real solution to a demographic/accessibility/education massification problem, AND they actually provided students with real credits in a meaningful education “currency”. The OU UK was established in 1968, and many other open universities followed. Here in Canada, as a result of the Quiet Revolution, there was the establishment of a new higher ed system called CEGEPs in Quebec in 1968, resulting in 46 new 2-3 year colleges that were accessible and largely free.  The scale of higher ed expansion at this point in time is mind-boggling.  In a period of 10 years, 28 other open universities were established around the world.

In 1979 John Daniel writes somewhat retrospectively on this phenomenon in Opening Open Universities:  “They are designed to serve working adults, usually without any academic prerequisites for entry, and they involve the delivery of instruction at a distance. Best known of these new institutions is the Open University of the UK, which has identified some 29 other universities around the world which implementthe open university concept in various ways. For most of these universities, adult off campus students constitute the sole or primary clientele”.

Here in Canada, in 1972 a task force on the Télé-Université reported that the establishment of TELUQ should address these challenges.

— Lifelong learning

— Real accessibility for all.

— Social development.

— Needs of working population.

— Greater mobility of knowledge.

— Wide use of new media and techniques.

— Rethinking the learning situation.

— Taking account of people’s prior life experiences.

— Reduction of unit costs

What is striking is how incredibly ambitious this list is.

In comparing our current day solutions to changing demographics, population, tech change, accessibility, to those of the 60s and 70s, where there drivers were very similar, it is notable that in the 60s and 70s the open universities had very ambitious agendas.  Today, it appears, we lean on MOOCs and OERs to address our higher ed problems, and we are certainly asked to buy into a rhetoric of disruption.

What is interesting, however, is that in the 60s, disruption meant actual student protests and disruption on college and university campuses around the world.  Today, it means the creation of new tech products, that will somehow solve higher education problems.  This is the innovation conversation of today that many of us in the ed tech field are familiar with. As this graphic from 2015 shows, the sample of the ‘ed tech players’ are for the most part LMS or MOOC platforms. 

And we are breathlessly reminded that this is a growth industry.

Keep in mind there has always been an education market.  In 1966-67 it was estimated to be worth 48 billion dollars in the US, second only to defense. Today the ed market, however defined, is second only to heath care in the US.

The question is, how much of what we are doing is recreating the past.  To this, we can look at Open Pedagogy as a possible example.

When I began looking into the origins of open pedagogy, I didn’t find many references in the English literature, but found a body of work in the French literature that dates from the early 70s, associated with Claude Paquette, a professor at UQAM.

Open pedagogy in its current day form has been argued to be the pedagogy that results when open education resources (as defined by the 5R permissions) are used. Along with this definition are the 5Rs as articulated by David Wiley.

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways

Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new

Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

As a result, this is a content focussed definition, and  Wiley has since reframed his definition of open pedagogy as OER enabled pedagogy.

What becomes interesting is when we contrast the current day open pedagogy, centred on the permissions surrounding content, with open pedagogy of the 1960s where learner emancipation, not the use of OERs, was the goal of open pedagogy. Claude Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation. For me, this is a much more ambitious definition of open pedagogy, focussed less on the how and more on the actual goal.

So what happened?  We can perhaps look to the 80s for some clues, although I spend less time in this era of the literature and there is more work to be done here.

The first hint I found is from Patricia Cross, speaking about community colleges in 1981:  “the message seems to say that the old ideals of the 1960s that used to excite and inspire, albeit midst frequent controversy, are gone, and new ones have not yet emerged”. She describes the emergence of a plateau “between 2 periods of high energy and a sense of mission in the community colleges” and notes that the early ideals have receded. In this article, she compares ‘should be’ goals at a 10 year interval and notes particularly the decline in the should be goal of accessibility, a significant decline in esprit de corps…mutual trust and respect among faculty students and administrators.

We also can see the emergence of corporate-speak applied to higher education as exemplified in this quote from 1982:“institutions of higher education lag behind most other sectors of the economy in their capacity to improve productivity”.  This article, which was published in Journal of Higher Education – is entitled The Impact of Organizational and Innovator Variables on Instructional innovation in Higher Education .

There are some interesting examples from the graveyard of dreams that also demand us to pause and ask how we came so close to getting it right.

Consider, for example, the case of the Earth Sciences department at St. Lawrence University. In 1977 Bill Romey (same author of the blobs of jello quote) writes: “An opportunity arose to implement a new program in a conventional academic department of geology and geography at St. Lawrence University. Would it be possible to bring about extensive change from within a conventional department in an old-line, conventionally oriented liberal-arts school? ”

The change Romey describes includes 10 or so characteristics of the new program that would have considerable appeal by current day standards.  These include:

  • Independent project work at all levels, for all students and faculty, would replace all standard courses.
  • Students would evaluate their own work.
  • Students would keep portfolios of their own work as an alternative means of showing what they had accomplished. There would be no more examinations of conventional types.
  • Students and faculty would participate fully and equally in the governance of the department.
  • The department was to run as an open organism with free access for everyone in the university, whether or not they were formally enrolled for credit.
  • Each person would function both as a teacher and as a learner.
  • The faculty accepted responsibility, in cooperation with the students, to create and maintain a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all.

Romey describes the evolution over a few years, and notes that conventional thinking is starting to creep back in but for the most part the department is operating as described above.

If you go to the department page today you will see there appears to be no essence of this spirit left and the now Geology department adopts a structure not unlike many other universities.  In fact, the only hint of this former time can be found on the academics page, where some amount of program customization is referenced, but this comes across more as academic strategy-speak than real.

It’s important to underline that there were lots of these types of idealistic experiments happening on campuses across North America (see the chapter on Recent Developments, p.10, for a good description of this) –St. Lawrence not the only one and it would take some work for somebody to dig in and explore how they look today.  Also notable is that there were several threads of open across concepts such as individualized learning, open enrolment, and open classrooms, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are also some examples of things that have only gotten better with time – in 1970, MacManaway writes what can only be described as flipped learning 1970s style – provide students with the lectures scripts for private reading and use the classroom time for small group discussion and assignments.

What the past and present version of ourselves shared was a common desire for teaching, learning, and student success. And this is where I think current day higher education can innovate with openness.  Of course, openness is often associated with Creative Commons licensing.  But increasingly I’m less interested in potential of CC licensing and more in the question of Open as a means to what? I feel like our 60s and 70s counterparts were much more clear and explicit about this question.

In this section of the presentation I describe some examples where I think we can clearly answer the question, Open as a means to what?  These include:

  1. BCcampus as providing the higher education sector in BC as a means to collaborate.
  2. The BC Open Ed Tech Collaborative
  3. The beginnings of a WordPress Cooperative as a new model for doing things together
  4. Some JIBC examples of open for the public good:  eg. Fentanyl Safety , which was recently written up in the Atlantic
  5. An international collaboration between JIBC and University of Guadalajara where early discussions and contract language included a CC BY NC license.
  6. JIBC’s work in developing an open textbook Zed Cred/Zee Degree in Law Enforcement Studies
  7. Virtually Connecting

If I can note anything about this journey to the past, it’s that the 60s and 70s literature is not dull reading…many of the articles linked above are written with incredible candour and passion, and there are plenty of LOL moments.




Openness and Teaching, Learning, and Student Success

I’m speaking at this year’s CICAN conference in a couple of weeks, and was asked to do an additional session for the Teaching, Learning, and Student Success stream.  This year’s conference theme aims to “showcase the contribution of colleges and institutes in transforming communities and building a more prosperous and equitable Canada which embraces diversity and inclusion, openness and a strong sense of pride” and since I’m fresh from my fabulous #OER17 experience, I thought I’d do a session called Teaching, Learning, and Student Success in the Context of Open.  

That title doesn’t really say much, so I’m framing it around these questions:

  1. What do we gain as institutions when we care about open?

Greater opportunities to collaborate with others – I think BCcampus and the BC higher ed sector are a good example of this in action. And of course I’ll point to our Open Ed Tech Collaborative and BC WordPress Co-Op.

Greater institutional visibility – JIBC has some measurable examples of this, but it would be nice to have stories from others.

A shift towards a different concern for students – does caring about open at an institutional level result in a different type of caring about our students? I feel  like it does, but can’t put forward an example at this point.

More control over resources such as technologies, textbook publication cycles and specialized subject matter – Again, JIBC has some concrete examples of this, but it would be nice to know whether this has also been the experiences and a ‘win’ for others.

2.  How does open contribute to student success? 

Open textbooks do reduce costs for students and do result in equal or better outcomes –  I can dive a bit into articles that address the question of better outcomes such as this one by John Hilton III  and this one by Feldstein but would love some other examples, even narratives, about how it does or doesn’t contribute to student success.

Open as an ethos that students can take with them into the “real world” aka. their professional lives – this was something that I heard Clint Lalonde and Amanda Coolidge mention in a recent interview and it really resonated with me as something that could be talked about a bit more in a broader social context.

3.  How are teaching and learning improved or how do they benefit from openness?

The opportunity for open pedagogy and open practices – The obvious work to point to here is Robin DeRosa’s thinking about open pedagogy, as well Robin’s and other’s examples where students create open textbooks.  I’m not sure there’s any research out there that says teaching and learning is improved as a result of open but I think it could be postulated that it opens up new possibilities, which in itself is a good thing and an important step.

I can also point to this study by Jhangiani et al ,  in which faculty perceived “that the use of OER in the classroom benefited their students and had a positive impact on their teaching practice”.


I’d love to be able to point to other examples, so if you have any from your own institutions I’d appreciate it if you could add a comment or send a quick tweet to @tanbob.  I PROMISE I’ll compile all the info into a neat and tidy post that can be made available to everybody.  Or if somebody has already done this somewhere else, I hope somebody will point me to that*. Pretty please.

*I will be pointing to the OER Knowledge Cloud  and the OER Hub


Open pedagogy and a very brief history of the concept

The good folks at #OER17 have accepted my conference proposal on our University of Guadalajara faculty development program, which I positioned in the proposal as an example of an open pedagogy approach to faculty development.  However the proposal acceptance is contingent on one thing:  it was noted that I don’t define or link to any scholarly resources on open pedagogy, a very fair point and very useful feedback. And a bit sloppy on my part, if I’m quite honest.

This lead me down a rabbit hole this week, digging around for scholarly work on open pedagogy.  The big surprise – although probably not to Vivian Rolfe who did a masterful job of a presentation at OpenEd16 this year digging into some history of open  – is that the term open pedagogy dates back to the early 1970s, where it was actually quite a thing in Quebec and France.  But does it mean what we think it means?

One of the oldest references comes from Canada’s own Claude Paquette, who in this article from 1979 states that open pedagogy has already been in place for almost 10 years, and lays out some foundational principles in his paper as well as this one from 2005.  His 1995 paper talks about open pedagogy with a historical distance that can only be appreciated if you’ve embraced a novel idea and watched it succeed and fail simultaneously. Consider this passage for example:

La nécessité d’une rupture avec la pédagogie encyclopédique charmait les plus progressistes et les plus innovateurs d’entre nous, alors que les tenants de la rénovation pédagogique ne cherchaient que quelques nouveaux trucs pour enjoliver la pédagogie de la bonne réponse sans en questionner les fondements et les pratiques.

The necessary rupture with textbook pedagogy charmed the  most progressive and most innovative of us, while those for pedagogical renewal were only looking for new techniques to liven things up without questioning the foundation and practices.    (my translation)

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.  He goes into some detail about these, but us ed tech folks will recognize some of the themes – individualized learning, learner choice, self-direction, – to name a few.  He even talks about “open activities” as the big innovation in open pedagogy, whereby students simultaneously use  their multiple talents in learning situations, and this process of learning is “interactional” (aka social and connected).  For Paquette, open is very much about learner choice, (albeit for him this is really about creating a classroom environment where this can be optimized).  Good stuff right?

Of course, this becomes much more fascinating if you consider the sociopolitical context in which these ideas were playing out.  Quebec had just experienced a cultural revolution which lead to a rupture of the stronghold of the Catholic church on pretty much all of Quebec society, and from which emerged, among other things, an educational reform and establishment of a CEGEP system in Quebec (tuition free post secondary colleges).  This is significant in that prior to this rupture, post secondary  education was largely accessible only to the (English) elite, and public education pretty much ended at age 14.

Meanwhile in Europe, there were similar educational reform ambitions and the language education world had embraced ideas of autonomy and self-direction in reaction to a number of sociocultural currents, which are nicely wrapped up for us in this 1995 article by Gremmo and Riley.  There are quite a few gems to consider in here in the context of how we talk about open and open pedagogy currently.  For example, the abstract starts us off with a bang in situating autonomy and self direction against a backdrop of:

minority rights movements, shifts in educational philosophy, reactions against behaviourism, linguistic pragmatism,wider access to education, increased internationalism, the commercialization of language provision and easier availability of educational technology (p.151)

Plus ca change…

Another gem discusses the role of technology in facilitating autonomy:

(4) Developments in technology have made an undeniable contribution to the spread of autonomy and self-success. The tape-recorder, the fast-copier, TV and the video-recorder, the computer, the photocopier, magazines, newspapers, fax and e-mail, all provide a rich variety of tools and techniques for the implementation of self-directed learning. In institutional terms, the facilities have been gathered together to form the resource centres (mediatheques, sound libraries, etc.) which will be discussed below. However, experience shows that the price of autonomy is eternal vigilance: there is a strong and repeated tendency for the introduction of some new technology by enthusiastic “technicians” to be accompanied by a retrograde and unreflecting pedagogy. A grammar drill on a computer is still a grammar drill and if learners are given little choice (or no training, which comes to the same thing) then it is a travesty to call their programmes “self-directed”. (p. 153)

Again, some familiar themes are discussed in this article:  flexible learning, vast increases in university population, wider access to education, internationalism, commercialization.

So how does this compare to the foundational principles on which the current open pedagogy movement rests?  At the moment, the current strand of open pedagogy seems to be defined by its use and creation of open materials. Consider for example this description from the OE consortium.

Or this poster for an event at CUNY.

Or this blog post from David Wiley, where he discusses the disposable assignment.

In other words, open pedagogy is currently a sort of proxy for the use and creation of open educational resources as opposed to being tied to a broader pedagogical objective.  Of course, this isn’t to say that the OER movement lacks foundational values and broader objectives – if anything, so much of the 1970s open pedagogy and autonomy world seems to resonate.   In fact, I find it quite fascinating that the authors of this post on the 8 qualities of open pedagogy seem to arrive at a similar place as our 1970s counterparts.  But it does raise the question as to whether we are being ambitious enough in our articulations and aspirations for open pedagogy.  And to Vivian Rolfe’s point made at OpenEd 16, are we are paying enough attention to voices of the past?




Week 2 in review

It’s really Week 1 on the academic calendar, and a challenging one to get the gears going again.

Presentation/faculty development:  the week kicked off with a presentation on new e-learning models to a group of Conflict Resolution program faculty. Conflict Resolution is one of our very well respected, high demand programs, lead by an impressively engaged and qualified group of faculty.  In prep for this, I had to update a 4 month old presentation on MOOCS, multi-access learning, micro-learning and subscription-based learning.  I find the micro-learning/subscription based learning space pretty interesting, and dare I say “disruptive” to continuing education.

Certificate in Experiential and Digital Learning:   things at JIBC have a habit of going from 0-100 in  the blink of an eye, so this week involved planning a previously unplanned site visit to the University of Guadalajara in about 10 days.  It also involved some planning of what is to come next, which is essentially a ton of interesting work in a short period of time.

New Hire:  Nailing down start dates for our Senior instructional designer maternity leave replacement–looking forward to announcing this next week.  I’m proud to say that JIBC has quite possibly the best maternity leave I’ve seen at any post-secondary, where, among other things, generous vacation is accrued during mat leave.  This does make it super tricky to budget and plan around start and leave dates, hence the delay.

Reading and Meandering via @veletsianos, read this article that George shared following a twitter back and forth about the emergence of autoethnography in MOOC research.  I’m a big fan of authoethnography as a methodology – my MA used an authoethnography design called a diary study, and coincidentally involved documenting myself learning Spanish online using only free resources in the days before MOOCs.  Although the article doesn’t do justice to the methodology, I look forward to seeing some authoethnographies on MOOCs, or even digital learners and digital identity topics.

via @clintlalonde I’m reading an OER study done in Washington Community and Technical Colleges.  There is relevance to our own study and I’m encouraged by how it acknowledges a gap in OER studies that largely focus on surveys at the expense of more in depth data that emerge from interviews.

via  @hibbitsdesign got curious about Toolset .  I have a feeling it could be useful for us, but haven’t quite got my head around the advantages. Realized that despite good intentions I never submitted anything for the OER Global conference in Banff.

Things that wow’ed me:  This week’s winner was Norway’s redesigned passport via @twoodwar.  There’s something about how this design stretches what a passport is as a precious, functional object of social capital, and what it can be as something more innovative – I feel like there are parallels with educational technology and elearning, and I often wish there were more resources to spend more time on the visual design of educational technology and elearning.

RIP Jean-Claude Bradley, Open Innovator

I learned haphazardly via Twitter the other day that Jean-Claude Bradley had passed away quite recently, am still reeling a bit from this news, despite never having met him in person.  When Open Education Resources were becoming a thing, JC Bradley was one of the first people I had heard about actually innovating his teaching around an idea of open. I referenced him on numerous occasions on this blog, first in 2006 when I came across a presentation he had done on how he was changing his teaching around podcasting and blogging, where, by providing students with a lecture archive in advance,  he was replacing his live lectures with hands-on workshop stuff.  I’m not sure JC ever got credit for possibly being the first flipper of classrooms, and he didn’t stop there anyways, adding wikis to that mix which I blogged again in 2006,  and then becoming well known in the organic chemistry community for his creation and development of Open Notebook Science.  His huge accomplishments are captured quite succinctly in this short bio and it is a good launching pad for more info about his open work. And don’t pass up the comments on this 2007 Nature publication which is a bit of a time capsule read and captures so much of the open publishing discussion that is now familiar to us.

In 2009,  I interviewed JC Bradley for a BCIT teaching and learning podcast series that I was kicking off centering on  instructors doing innovative things with teaching and technology. The audio link is now broken, but I’ve reposted the edited version here.  JC was an obvious choice for the inaugural podcast, and he graciously and generously let me record a 20 minute phone chat with him.

We spent the first part of the conversation talking about the francophone community in Ontario, where he was from, our linguistic misadventures in Paris (where he did a post-doc) and his love for the CBC.   At around the 7′ mark he starts talking about how he navigated away from the LMS in favour of wikis and podcasts and the blogs:


“…most of the course management systems are designed for keeping people out and I’m trying to make my material as open as possible.  For me, it’s actually easier to use a public wiki, a public blog, because those are designed to actually be open, and they’re quickly indexed in Google and I get all those advantages…”


At the 10′ mark he talks about how working openly has allowed him to meet several of his current research collaborators, citing this as one of the key advantages.  It’s incredible to think about this conversation in a 2009 context, especially since he was already on this path in 2006.  UPDATE:  There’s a great transcript of an interview with him  from 2010 about his whole approach to open notebook science,  open publishing, and even patents.

But what struck me most about my conversation with JC Bradley is how much he seemed to be an ego-free, enthusiastic advocate for doing something differently in a way that benefitted his students and his discipline.   I wished we could have crossed paths in person, had a beer, and continued this conversation.


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