The Technology Empire and the Struggle of the Educationalist

11:00 AM

This morning I set myself to explore some technologies to support the upcoming OLnet virtual workshops. The OU itself offers a number of them, such as Cloudworks, Cohere and FM. These are great tools that have been used successfully by a growing number of people worldwide. Nevertheless it’s important for us to keep an eye on what else the world finds interesting, and try to understand how best to make use of these tools for community enabling and to support our research purposes. In less than half an hour of what I would call a ‘very modest’ exploration, within my own social networking links, I found out three new tools. This time I didn’t even have the luxury of doing a Google search! I realised that in order to keep up with the technology available out there I would have to keep both eyes on it and not only one (excuse my Brazilian irony, I hope it makes sense lol). Just by reading some colleagues’ twitter messages and blog posts, as well as by looking at the technologies they use, I found out this whole new universe in front of me, that if I were to seriously explore, it would take at the very least the rest of my day time. Most immediately after this realisation and a quick look at the clock, I gave up searching for new technology and decided to think about how to make the best use of the tools that I already know. But is this the best option? I wondered. Maybe yes, I could get things done timely and effectively! Maybe not…. I could be missing out on better ways of doing things… and I would also be missing on the innovation side of things… the buzz tools, the buzz words, the DIM DIM, the DIGG, the Wave….

What a struggle. I concluded. And this is because I am not the most dummy of the persons when technology is concerned. Ok, I am more of an educationalist than a technologist, but even though… Perhaps the problem is not so much on ‘how’ to use the tools (at least for me), the problem nowadays is that there’s too much out there. It’s a Technology Empire.

Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, excuse me the techie ones :-) But that this infinity of options can be rather blurring, distracting and time consuming, oh yes it can. And when it comes to OER design, use and re-use, do people actually have that much time to spend on shopping around the options? In fact, perhaps one of the biggest appeals nowadays about shopping around for technology is that it’s free: you can download and play as much as you want with the tools without digging a hole in your pocket. And pardon my rather naive comparison, but I wish make-up and shoes were available in the shops and free in the the same way … ;-)

Now, seriously, how on earth can we expect people to get grips with all that is around (even if it means two or three tools) and still produce wonderful reusable open content materials? And come up with great expertise and stories of success they can share with the world? And convince their institutions, colleagues and students that OER is a really cool thing to do? In most of the interviews with users I conducted for the past three years (teachers and general practitioners) they say something like this: “I love this technology, I really do. I think it is clever and could be really useful. But I sincerely do not have the time to invest in learning how to use it.” And they not rarely add “There’s a sea of options out there, I do not know what to choose and I do not even know where to get started. It’s a pity but it’s reality”. They are not alone. What to say next?

I still do not have a conclusion for my technology matter. It seems I am going round in circles, both counciously trying to get out of the technology trap (I like your term ‘trap’ Patrick) at the same time fascinated by the options these digital era gives me. And to give you an insider view, potential virtual workshop participants seem to prefer to use their own technology (they also develop cool things in their countries, you know?). So I wrote to my colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Orkut, MySpace, Skype and Messenger (have I forgotten anything?) and asked for their help; I asked them to suggest me some interesting virtual learning environments and social networking websites that could make great mediation tools to our virtual workshops, something they would like to use. Some of them sent me some total unfamiliar (to me of course), really cool stuff they say, something we could never do without, all open source…. I must try them out… mustn’t I?

I need an aggregator, now I got it! I finally got the inspiration I was after, it only took me a blog post and it came my way. I am off to look for one now. Hum? The virtual workshops? The OER stuff? I think they can wait a little longer, I have something more important to do right now…

TU Delft Open CourseWare Seminar: The OUNL Experience

Live blogging, 10:00 AM – attendance by webinar

TUDelft University is hosting a seminar on open courseware today, mostly targeting the universities of the Netherlands. The idea is to bring together prospective and existing initiatives to discuss the challenges and the successes of OER provision.

The experience of the Open University of the Netherlands was presented by Robert Schuwer:

Started in 2006, followed by Delft in 2007. They have two institutional initiatives, OpenER and Spinoza. The OUNL is one of the fourteen universities in the Netherlands, and they focus on lifelong learning. With more than 20.000 students, they are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.

Their aim with OER is to lower the threshold for access to formal HE, at the same time widening and increasing participation in HE in the Netherlands. They focus on offering high quality short open courses developed for self-study, what they call a ‘portal of temptation’ to higher education. They also offer the possibility to bridge informal learning and formal education, by means of official examination options. OpenEr was funded by both Hewllet Foundation and the Dutch Ministery of Education.

Figures of OpenER: the project generated a lot of media attention, attracted near 1.000.000 visitors, provided 25 courses online, 5700 users registered voluntarily, courses cost between 3.000-30.000 Euros each. The project ended formally in June 2008, but is now being incorporated to normal university activities. Approximately 10% of OpenER visitors signed up for formal courses at OUNL.

Three key best practices: Rely on quality awareness of authors (auhtorsd are already used to produce self-study materials); Support of top management (described as ‘crucial’), production of open courses should be a regular task of faculties (not dependent upon a few enthusiastic people).

Sustainability: can an OER project exist without grants? This is a challenge that all initiatives face, says Robert. At OUNL their aim is to incorporate the initiative to their business model. Each course they offer will have an OER (it may be all the course or a piece of it). They aim to be a service-oriented organisation and to offer interactive OER using different media.

Wikiwijs is a national OER initiative in the Netherlands. This national initiative was created due to the observation of the success of initiatives such as OpenER. They aim to offer school books for free and to make more appealing the ‘teaching profession’. It offers a platform where people can upload learning materials onto a repository at the same time being redirected to other existing educational materials (that they nicely call a ‘referatory’). The name of the initiative draws on the philosophy of Wikepedia, where together people create materials. Launching in Dec 2009 with the beta version, focusing on primary, secondary and community college sector. In January 2011 is the delivery of the implementation plan for the years ahead. Materials will be published under the Creative Commons License. Materials will be peer-reviewed.

Nice talk, Robert!

Explore, map and build: the 4 themes and their connections

Live blog post, 3pm

continued form previous post:

1) Models of technology:

All projects use a pool of technologies: social networking (e.g. Facebook, Ning, Cloudworks), repositories (OpenLearn, slideshare, flickr), mapping software (e.g. Compendium, Cohere).

2) Models of learning:

Common to all projects: an attempt to blend formal and informal learning;

Discussed: the individual and social dimension; structure and unstructured materials.

3) Models of community:

Various foci: content, social interactions etc. How do these things characterize different types of interactions between learners, how does leadership happen in these spaces?

Common to the projects: personalisation, content-focus, forums, openness. The concept of the collective, learning design (as a community)

4) Models of design:

Different models of design and how these projects can be placed in these models:

4 types of design model:

1) configuration and re-configuration design (creating new patterns from existing ones) LDI, SocialLearn, OpenLearn

2) Inspirational design (Creativity): OLnet, VirtualMphil

3) Effective design (for particular requirements): VirtualMphil, TERGU, Atelier-D

4) Collaborative design & Cooperative design (teams of people doing things): OLnet, Atelier-D

We will continue the conversation at Ning/Cloudworks. Cloudworks is open to the public view. Photos of the day are available at OLnetChannel on Flickr.

Explore, map and build: brainstorming questions

Live blogging:


continued from previous post:

What does each project think they can get out of this workshop?

What are the models of learning?

What do we mean by communities? What about collaborations?

In terms of technology, what are the experiences we have in terms of using different tools? How can we pull this knowledge together?

How can we use tools to better communicate and support communities?

How to explore ways of communication between OU existing projects?

What are the dimensions of formal and informal learning within our projects?

In terms of the design of materials, are there any approaches that would help us achieve what we want?

How can we draw on the visual elements of design? And representations in various ways?

Creative thinking and creative learning: how could people make the best of the opportunities that they are given?

Social technologies allow for creativity: what is the effect of this creative on the learning?

How can we build more authentic assessment drawing on users’ personal experiences?

Boundaries: how to manage our identity in social networking spaces?

How can we explore new ways of collaborating between the projects?

3 main themes: communities/collaboration, design/learning, technologies (formal &informal learning)

4 Models: models of learning: models of communities; models of technologies; models of design

Big question: How to explore ways of communication between OU existing projects?

We are now being divided into 4 groups, each group being a gatekeeper of each of the themes above. Our aim is to create a representation of how each of the 7 projects discussed today tackle the models above.

More to follow….

Explore, map and build workshop

Live blogging:


This morning we are gathered together at the Open University, The Design Observatory, Observation Space, to discuss the connections amongst the various OER projects existing in the university. By ‘we’ I mean representatives from projects such as OLnet, Atelier-D, OpenLearn, SCORM, LDI, iSpot, the TERG research group and the OU Library.

We started by ‘building’ a virtual representation of the projects, using traditional technologies such as pens, paper, glue and magazines! Interestingly, most posters have pictures that evoke meanings such as networks, international scope, multiculturality, technologies and mixed age-groups.

Andreia Santos started by talking about the main three elements of OLnet (Open Learning Network): networking, participatory research and fellowships. OLnet is an international research hub that aims to bring together OER researchers, providers and practitioners with a view to promote a space for the sharing of experiences in designing, using and re-using OER. It offers a website and links to tools such as social networking (Cloudworks), a mapping tool (Cohere) and blogging/discussion forums to support community engagement.

Lucia Rapanotti follows by talking about The Virtual MPhil, a research programme offered by the OU computing department aiming to support a diverse community through online technology, bringing together supervisors and students working at a distance. It involves a number of technologies, such as Second Life and Ning.

Andy Lane talks about OpenLearn as a test-bed, a project to develop OER on big scale (big ‘d’). It exposes the OU content and other people’s content , but it is also a platform in which many things can be done. There is the LabSpace and Learning Space, and overall 20000 download of study units every week. OpenLearn is a test-bed for learners, for students, for educators, for the universities. People can do things with it and they do not have to ask us to do so. Research continues to be an important element to the understanding of how useful these materials are for the community and actually what they ‘do’ with them.

Theo Zamenopoulos talks about Atelier-D: Achieving Transformation, Enhanced Learning and Innovation through Educational Resources and Design. Atelier-D is a design studio (of materials), a place for people to work together in collaboration with tutors and other students. It is a social environment for collaboration. The big question for the project is how to use the technologies to understand the dynamics of a traditional design studio. They use a mix of technologies such as Facebook, Second Life, Compendium, Flickr and Elluminate. They aim to bridge the use of these tools and try and create an infrastructure for the students to work with. How to integrate the complexities of the use of all these technologies is one of the project’s challenge (and of OLnet too, I should add!)

The next project showcased is iSpot; a project interested in wildlife and providing a space for the sharing of ideas within a friendly community. It is a place for informal and mobile learning, in which individuals can use the resources provided to observe wildlife and share information. The research side of iSpot is to observe people in their journey, how they use resources and make connections with them, although they say it is a real challenge!

TERG (Technology and Education Research Group) is a research group in the communication systems department, focusing on the use of technologies for learning and on how to learn with technologies. It involves different people at the OU collaborating and sharing experiences.

More on Explore, Map and Build to follow….