explorations in the ed tech world

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Tag: open education resources

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.

open learning and language

An interesting (old) quote from geolinguist and sociolinguist extraordinaire, William Mackey.  I’m parking it here because it’s related to discussions on open learning, and in line with my last post on language and the open access movement.

“The combined impact of this accelerating mobility, globalization of instant information and uniformization of mass media has lessened the contact between neighbours while increasing the impact of dominant cultures whose massive loudspeakers silence the small voices of local speech and minority cultures.  In sum, the far erodes the near and eventually drives it out.”

Mackey, W.F.  (1992).  Mother tongues, other tongues and link languages: What they mean in a changing world.  Prospects, 22, 81.

Higher ed hacks–the other elephant in the room

Metapizza kindly pointed to the second option that I offered up as a higher ed hack, noting that it was more of a distributed learning system than a truly open system. I think the point is that distributed learning systems can, and perhaps should be open.  The models I put out there in my last post are really addressing the accreditation problem by working within existing (and seemingly impenetrable) higher ed structures – they are essentially parasitic models, although I would argue that all parties benefit. So maybe they are actually complementary.  

There was obviously an international bent to the second model, which was an attempt to address 2 things that seem to be happening in higher ed (in Canada at least).  First, there appears to be an increased emphasis on an internationalization agenda at Canadian higher education institutions (AUCC 2006) resulting in the development of jointly offered programs, partnerships, and study abroad exchanges. However, current university models have not addressed how international participation can occur in these institutions and programs without barriers of entrance requirements, including academic English literacy,  tuition fees, and the financial ability to travel and stay at  the host institution.  Second, there seems to be some recognition that nobody “owns” knowledge (not a new idea, obviously), therefore there should be some effort to engage with ideas outside of one’s own ivory tower.  Since both of these issues have already been discussed to some extent in relation to OERs, the model we used at UBC seemed to be feasible option.

I do think there is potentially yet another elephant in the room, one that is continually being contested in academic publishing, internet culture, and life in general–that of the predominance of English as the lingua franca of just about everything these days.  This is obviously not going to be a problem if there is a balanced effort to ensure that OERs are available in languages of anybody who needs to access them.  But geolinguistic history tells us that this is difficult to achieve, regardless of a national language policies. 

I know there has been some discussion about OERs being translated into other languages, building on a practice that is already taking place with opencourseware.  This is obviously a valid option, however there are a couple of challenges to this.  First,  translation is hardly neutral, and this may or may not matter when ideas/knowledge/concepts are being translated.  Secondly, translation is resource heavy (just ask any Canadian federal civil servant) and I expect it’s not a feasible option for those working in less resource privileged contexts.  I think that if OERs are going to be discussed in relation to benefits to developing countries, this should continue to be acknowledged.

Some facts:

1.  There are more EOLs (English as and Other Language) speakers in the world than there are native speakers.

2. While some countries are known for their highly functional in EOL population (eg. India), it must be remembered that the proportion of the population for whom this is the case may be relatively small.

After living for a time in Asia and Mexico, and working at a large Canadian university, I have observed that for international students an education in English from a “Western” university represents considerable cultural capital that students can leverage when they return to their home countries, or in their efforts to stay in the host country when they seek employment.  I wish I had something more tangible to reference this statement, but for now it’s simply an observation.

This can be viewed in a couple of ways.  First, if the majority of OERs end up being in English it could be seen as a vehicle for acquiring academic literacy in English.  On the other hand, OERs in English could be seen as a threat to local languages in the same way that it has played out in the academic publishing world (c.f. Hamel’s thorough analysis–abstract available here, but full article is unfortunately locked down. Plus, lots of related discussions in the entire issue, if you can get your hands on it). Regardless, it is recognized that academic literacy remains a  recalcitrant barrier for EOL students and faculty globally (Flowerdew, 2007, also locked down).  It will be interesting to see how this can be accounted for in the open models that continue to emerge.

Higher Ed hacks #1–open models

I’ll borrow the phrase from David Wiley’s recent post and offer my own hack on addressing the accreditation conundrum with OERs.  I’m fairly new to the interesting conversations around open learning, open teaching, open content and open courseware, but as a instructional developer with two feet firmly planted in the distance education world I see these worlds as colliding quite nicely, especially since distance education in Canada has traditionally been driven by a social agenda that sought to provide access to non-traditional learners (of course, it’s up for argument whether this is still the case…).  

Accreditation is undeniably the big problem remaining to be solved if open learning is going to secure a place in higher education (in agreement with the “elephant in the room” comment from D’arcy here).  And while it’s hardly debateable that learning need not inhabit formal academic structures, accreditation is predominently the currency of choice, whether it’s economic or cultural capital that is being sought.   I look forward to seeing the efforts and the open models that evolve from the creative hacking.  I expect that some of these models might sit in structures that bypass universities altogether, some might sit in a university, and some might involve a combination of the two.  

The way I’m understanding it, the current OER-inspired models range from self-directed-access-on-your-own type learning to open-course-with-open teaching (with credits for some). Personally, while I applaud the open teaching efforts of David Wiley’s course, Alec Couros’ course, and George and Stephen’s Connectivism course, it might not be attractive to late adopters, once the novelty of this type of model has worn off, since would appear to potentially require a good deal of unpaid effort on the part of the instructor.   

So, this leads me to two possibilities that I’m putting out there as models for a happy marriage between OERs, accreditation, and teaching:

Option 1.  Accredited self-access centres

Self-access centres have existed since at least the 1970s (which I suspect evolved out of language education’s own Edupunk movement that saw the emergence of some very *creative* methods–look up suggestopedia if you’re interested) and offer several models of independent or self-directed learning with a range of instructor/expert support, while providing accreditation.   It’s not hard to see how this could be translated into a model for OER  

The upside:  

1.  Centres are associated with a bricks and mortar university, therefore presumably the student learning plan negotiated with and agreed to by the centre would provide credits from the university. 

The downside: 

1.  Institutional bureaucracy.  I suspect that the facility of this model would be impeded by concerns about quality of content, and how the open content measures against the institution.    

Option 2.  Inter-Institutionally Shared  Course Components

This is a model that we’ve actually tested and used multiple times since 2000 at the department of language and literacy education at UBC. It evolved out of a desire to add a more global perspective to a course by engaging with students at international institutions.  However, institutional bureaucracies and policies make it very challenging to enroll international students not associated with the university into courses and programs for accreditation.  

The model works on the assumption that university courses are generally composed of three central components—content, interactions, and assessed activities. It also works on the (social-constructivist) assumption that while content is important, the value of a course largely comes from the instructor-student and/or student-student interactions.

This is how it works, via an example of a 2001 iteration that we implemented with students located in Canada, Russia, and Mexico:

1. Course A (Canada) decided that the course content in a course on global issues and language could benefit from engagement with international partners.  The course was being delivered f2f.

2.  A Russian professor/acquaintance teaching an English course to business students was contacted  to see whether a component of her course (Course B) could benefit from an international discussion.  This course was being delivered f2f.

3.  An instructor in Mexico teaching an Advanced English course on Popular culture and media (course C) was contacted to see whether her course could benefit from an international discussion.  This course was being delivered f2f.

Being circa 2001, the 3 sites decided to include a graded 6 week online discussion forum activity (hosted by UBC) around topics that benefitted their own course objectives.  Each site allocated different percentages to the activity, and different criteria for assessment and participation.  Each instructor was responsible for grading their own students.  Students received credits for their course activity from their own institution.  Although this example did not require the use of OERs, it could, with the added benefit of introducing a more glocalised perspective by including international partners.  We also considered how this model might be applied to other disciplines where global perspectives are of particular importance (eg. business, ecology, medicine). 

The upside:

1. students received credit

2. students had access to 3 professors, not 1.

3.  departmental and institutional approvals weren’t required

4.  course content and discussions were greatly enriched (and validated) through exposure to the perspectives of the international partners

5.  students gained considerable academic literacy in English (English was not a first language for any of the students)

The downside:

1.  there were varying levels of internet access among the 3 partners

2. some challenges in coordinating the participation of the 3 instructors

We visualised the model like this, with a Pediatric Dentistry course as an example: