In the spotlight: Wikipedia @ the OU Conference 2010 – day 2

Live blogging, 3:30 pm

Openness in Education: Talk by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia

Jimmy starts by  explaining that at Wikipedia it is not necessarily the case that anyone can edit everything – there’s a specific group of contributors that edit, monitor and make the content available to the world. He also explains that there is no relationship between Wikipedia and Wikiversity.

Jimmy discusses a little bit about the history and scale of Wikipedia. It was ‘ the great experiment’, he says, being the core idea to create a global encyclopedia supported by volunteers. The vision statement is that every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge . Wikipedia is defined by Jimmy as  “a free and high quality encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages”. Neutrality and quality are extremely important at Wikipedia. He argues that a minimum level of reliability is necessary for the encyclopedia to be respected and popular. It is managed by a series of community processes and control. At Wikipedia the idea of neutrality has been the core : the firm rule is that there’s a neutral point of view. Wikipedia does not take a stand on any controversial issue – the reader is free to make their own judgement .

What is free access? At Wikipedia it’s first freedom of speech. The texts and the software of Wikipedia are all free. He argues that Wikipedia is not necessarily the most helpful format of information for the students to learn with- but everything there can be repurposed in many different ways. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which means that not everything belongs to Wikipedia. IT offers a summary of the human knowledge with the depth of the material depending on the subject.

Wikipedia is a charity supported by donations, the average size for donation is about $30 (dollars), but there is obviously big funding coming from the big players, as Google etc, says Jimmy. The core of the donations however is made by small donours. Over 275 million people visit Wikipedia every month. Funding at Wikipedia happens organically, he says, not necessarily ‘top-down’.

There’s about 100,00 active contributors to Wikipedia,a ll volunteers. The site is global. There are more than 3 million entries in English, but more than 500 million entries in other languages. There are 308,000+ articles in Chinese alone, but it’s small relative to the number of Chinese speakers that are online. Wikipedia was banned in China for over 3 years. The Chinese government has losen up in many ways, and now Wikipedia is generally available in China, but certain pages are banned (e.g. some things about Tibet, the independence of Taiwan etc). It’s the 53rd most popular website in China. Jimmy says that they would like to be more popular in China, and that it’s fast growing over there. Wikipedia has caused a cultural impact in China, he argues.

Wikipedia allows for Global content comparisons. In different parts of the world, certain content can be more or less popular. Ex. ‘Sex’ is popular in every language except French and Spanish. There are certain topics that are equally popular, such as Star Trek and Star Wars…

Question: what’s next for Wikipedia? In the short term, Jimmy explains that the three priorities for them are: 1. quality (in the large languages, e.g. English, instead of adding more, improving quality), 2. Growth in the developing world (by running pilot projects ), 3. Usability (the software is not as user-friendly as they would like it to be).

Question: Many educators are asking students to create Wikipedia pages, what are your views on that? Answer: sometimes excited, sometimes not as much. It depends on how the project is structured – quality is needed, and this usually happens when the students are given appropriate background.

Question: How has been quality control over the years, and how have you dealt with that? Answer: Several phases related to quality control, the most famous quality problem beying vandalism.However, this is the problem we have lots of hands on. Issues of bias for example, related to less popular and controversial topics (e.g. Palestine, scientology etc). These articles are closely monitored and are of high quality. More obscure topics (that people do not care about much), are also problematic, because there are not  many people monitoring them. We are trying to get a system in which we can go through the less popular topics, and that’s a challenge for the future, I think – says Jimmy.

Question: how is consensus generated? Answer: there’s a pretty informal mechanism to reach consensus, but it’s mostly based on the issue of neutrality, as I mention before. We developed some techniques over the years, as for example, mentioning many different sides of the same story.

Wikipedia is a very innovative way of sharing content, and it was an insightful talk by Jimmy Wales.

HEAT program @ the OU Conference – day 2

Live blogging, 2pm – Conference Day 2

HEAT: Health Education and Training in Africa

Talk by Alison Robinson (programme coordinator)

Challenges in Africa:  high incidence of maternal and child mortality, HIV/AIDS , TB and malaria increasing, critical shortage of health workers, inadequate facilities and equipment. In Africa there’s 900 maternal deaths per 1000,000 births. Africa has 11% of the world’s population.

HEAT helps to address critical health workers shortage. The strengths of the HEAT program are that it delivers significant impact for relatively small investment, and it has the potential to train hundreds of thousands of health workers. HEAT materials can be delivered in print, online or disk.

The pilot country of HEAT is Ethiopia. One of the reasons is that all post-secondary education and training in Ethiopia is taught in English. Total population is around 81 million, of which 84% live in rural communities. Every year around 21000 Ethiopian women die due to complication of pregancy or childbirth. It is a country of contrasts.

The health extension workers in Ethiopia are paid a small salary by the Ministry of Health.  They need to be female, speak local language and basic English, amongst other things. Health Extension Workers’ initial training need to be upgraded to overcome the deficiencies in their initial training, and also because the workers are keen to have a career path. The HEAT training is provided by distance education. Restrictions on classroom capacity and availability of teachers would take more than 10 years to upgrade 31,000 health education workers.  Distance learning can be completed between 18-24 months.

HEAT will be an online knowledge bank of training materials, both in text and in multimedia form, delivered as OER . It will also include self-assessment questions, resources and toolkits with case-studies etc.

HEAT has the support of the Ministries of Health and Education in Ethiopia, funded by the Allan and Nesta Ferguson Trust. There will be 16 distance e-learning modules, each one assessed by means of a tutor-marked assignment. The first 4 out of 16 modules are being prepared and are due for completion be end of July.

Challenges: some authors are experiencing difficulties in writing in a second language. They are also leanring the methodology of distance learning.

Alison says that the work in Ethiopia has been enourmously rewarding.

HEAT beyond Ethiopia: all modules will be free to download. Conversations are taking place to localise the content to Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and Zambia.  Modules are adaptable also outside Africa.

HEAT vision: ot create a consortium of countries and organisatiosn working together aim to tackle social inequalities in Africa.

iSpot @ the OU Conference 2010 – day 2

Live blogging, 13:30 – OU conference Day 2

Talk by Doug Clow

iSpot – Your place to share nature

Doug starts by saying that (iSpot.  helps people to identify their observations of nature. One can take a photo and upload it to the iSpot website, saying what they think it is (where they saw it etc). If someone thinks it’s something else, they can identify it too. Once the user gets the confirmation of the identification, then they can learn more about it – in depth information of other observations people made about the same thing . There is a web page for every species in iSpto, aggregating all the available content  (including Wikipedia) about the species of the whole world.

At iSpot, after making an identification, the user can see who else agrees with it. And the individual identifiers are ‘ranked’ in a reputation system at the website. Once the user makes an observation and gets feedback, they can build a portfolio of pictures (as more people agree with your observation) , it increases  their reputation in the website. Observatiosn can be of birds, plants etc.

Many people who use iSpot also take a short OU course if they wish (Neighbourhood Nature 5159). This leads to accreditation – it’s a 10-point course. iSpot has a partnership with BBC Radio 4, helping broadcasting the project and enabling access to ‘nature experts’ . iSpot is Lottery funded, and targets under-represented groups.

Users give lots of  positive feedback about iSpot – they like the community of people with knowledge and enthusiasm. People say “I can’t go outside now without ‘seeing’ things!”. 130,000 visits to the site.

A good user story is that a 6-year old girl spotted a moth – Euonymus Leaf Notcher ( a rare moth in Europe). It was its first observation in the UK. That discovery was highly publicised in newspapers etc. iSpot counts on collaborations with a number of specialist societies.

Participatory Learning: research driven by the work on iSpot (Clow, Makryannis and De Liddo). Participatory Learning is a rich way of using new online media, Doug argues, as it is in line with the OU mission of inclusive education.

Learning in an Open World: Open University Online Conference – day 1

OU Conference: 22nd and 23rd June 2010.   Live blog, morning session 11:20 AM. Day 1

Professor Martin Weller opens up the conference explaining how it will work and talking through the conference programme. He then discusses the concept of ‘openness’ and how it, alongside technology,  has been changing academic practices. The OU conference itself is an example, having previously been run on a face-to-face basis, for the first  time the OU conference is happening entirely online and contributions were accepted openly. The conference targets the OU staff but it is open to all because everything is happening openly in the Internet.

Professor Grainne Conole gives the first talk of the day on Cloudworks. It is a place for sharing and discussing teaching and learning ideas. It is a place for teachers to discuss learning designs, curriculum, etc. Everything in the site is open, and it has about 60000 registered users from all over the world. It is a good place to kick off a discussion about a topic for example, allowing users to include links, share videos, slides, photos etc. Users can also follow other users (like Twitter) and have their own “academic calendar”, in which you can mark you are attending a conference, for example, and see whoever else is attending it. It is a great place for academics, teachers and researchers to share ideas and information. To see the Open University conference page on Cloudworks see OUConf10.

Peter Scott, director of the Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) follows on to talk about the OU ITUnesU initiative. As 14th June 2010 the OU ITunesU had 19,727,000 downloads, around 90% of visitors come from outside the United Kingdom. Peter says iTunes is a good place to promote your work. ITunesU can now be run on mobile phones and the OU is now experimenting with the IPad as well.Peter emphasises that this is a great opportuntity to rethink learning channels and is a back end of powerful systems to support multiple channel opportunitites.

Chris Pegler is next, she is the academic director of SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education). Unfortunately Chris cannot connect, so   Dr Patrick McAndrew stepped in to give his talk, which has scheduled for the afternoon.

Patrick McAndrew talks on OLnet, Open Learning Network, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Olnet looks the way in which OER can be globally researched, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. OLnet year 1: Blending evidence for collective intelligence is the title of his talk. The purpose of OLnet is to support how reserach can be gathered together and disseminated. OER is seen as a catalyst for ‘deeper learning’, says Patrick, quoting Barbara Chow, from the Hewlett Foundation.

One of the things OLnet looks at is how to design OER for reuse. OLnet draws on a number of tools such as Cohere and Cloudworks to promote open research in this area. Patrick says he feels that content has a special role, it is an attractor to bring people together, and it has been reflected directly in terms of recruitment (about 13 thousand people) have registered at the OU through the openess of OpenLearn.

OLnet looks at OER in different contexts, and try to bring a new perspective to researching the field. The OER field is still strognly dominated by the ‘West’ universities and OLnet aims to bring examples form other contexts such as Africa, South America etc. There is a lot of new approaches to work with OER, such as the example of a collaborator in Brazil (UnisulVirtual) that is offering ‘Winter courses’ during the Winter break based on OER – courses taken from OpenLearn, translated into Portuguese and localised. These courses will be mentored and offered to the UnisulVirtual current students and their family and friends, in a effort to open up access to higher education content and curriculum. The work done in Brazil with OER was mentioned both by Patrick and by the participants as an example of growing open education practices.

The conference then broke into 3 discussion rooms on Elluminate: in the main room the discussion is about how learners use open content, room one is about sustainability of open content and room two is about how teachers use open content.

Afternoon sessions

Professor Andy Lane: SCORE: Support Centre for Open Resources in Education

Live blogging, 13:30

SCORE builds on the OpenLearn initiative of the Open University. OpenLearn started in 2006, and has more than 9000 study hours of OER available in the website. OpenLearn  won the The TImes Higher Leadership and Management Award of the Year in ICT. Score is about increasing sector capacity for the use of OER. SCORE will support 36 fellowships and aims to create 3600 hours of OER reflecting the sector needs.

Andy explained how OpenLearn has been going through some changes, and showed comparatively the new names attributed to the various areas available for user engagement and OpenLearn. Andy also talked about an event in Leeds that led to the creation of the Leeds Manifesto on OER Sustainability (see link below). Andy stresses the needs for OER to be accessible – is not enough to be made available, it has to be accessible. A question from the audience is whether there is still any opposition to OER in the sector. Andy responds by saying that he has never come across any direction opposition.

Laura Dewis – OpenLearn

Laura aims to talk about the view of OpenLearn. This proposal came out from a review of the OU broadcasting strategy. OpenLearn will merge with is the website where people can find out about the broadcasts that we do at the OU. The idea is to close and expand OpenLearn. Laura explains that teh idea is to reach users where they are, linking to different sites such as YouTube, ITunesU etc. It is expected that users will then navigate the different areas of OpenLearn and find out more about the OU courses and research projects.

Laura says that in contrast to, OpenLearn will not be a branded BBC website. It will focus on the various formats of OER: educational content (text) , video, podcasts etc. Laura shows the new look of OpenLearn, to be launched in July this year.

George Siemens: Teaching and Learning in Open Social & Technological Networks

George is from Athabasca University. He argues that essentially an educator takes content from a knowledge field and provides some structure to it so learners can learn from/with it. He talks about news/media fragmentation – something done by newspapers for example. Media message fragmentation has not quite had an impact in education, he argues. How can the education sector be impacted by technology in a similar way ? The model in education so far is driven by concepts of complexity and emergence. Who has control and who  has capacity to shape the conversation and information exchange in education? By engaging with social tools such as Facebook or Twitter for example, the more difficult it is to leave… .in education, he argues, we need to engage more with new ways of disseminating knowledge. The conversations nowadays  are  distributed around different systems and networks, and universities do not seem to be able to pull these conversations together.

George talks about networked courses. These courses do not have a centre. They are not created years before the learner joins the university, but are created in the process of teaching and learning. There is not a particular URL for the course, for example. However, things are aggregated to make sense as they should, being pulled from different sources. Centering is needed for quality of learning, for identifying patterns, and some level of centering is important to share content. Temporary centers can be created with a number of different social networking tools, organised by the individuals themselves. Multiple temporary centers can also be created. This is a space that people can come together and where a particular learning activity is concluded. Tags can be used, Delicious, Google alerts etc. Monitoring of social media is also a type of activity that helps tracking conversations. Then he mentions clustered aggregation.

The idea is to create a central message through distributed means… learners learn from conceptual connections regardless the best lectures.. he argues. If we are more flexible in the approach, we have a different model in which we engage the learners in questioning for example. Martin Weller argues that students are conservative, and usually expect to see the content as a ‘pack’, as they can see value for money in it. It seems that learners need to become more independent, George explains, and appreciate the fact that they can learn ‘beyond’ the course with the new technologies. The lack of sense of structure demands some transformation in the part of the learners to allow for these sort of teaching and learning to happen. It is a challenge to let go of that strong desire for a structured process, and in letting it go, Siemens argues, we can enrich the learning experience by allowing for personalised contexts and resources that reflect the learners personal history and needs.

In case you as teacher, for example, have 6 learning goals, and the learners are going to all sorts of places to learn about these subjects, the steps you could take to make sense of it all are: 1. ‘Amplifying’ – By using social tools the educators can amplify the message. 2. ‘Curating’ – educators provide a conceptual feedback that enhance the learning experience, both in terms of content and conversations. 3. Wayfinding & Sensemaking: by providing resources and discussing around those. Helping students find their way but also by means of creating spaces where learners are able to find their way on their own. 4. Filtering: selection of what needs to be read and what does not need to be read. 5. Modeling: the usual role the educators have always played. This is about critical and creative thinking. By modeling examples of behaviours and models that learners need to use.6. Persistent presence: the tutor needs to engage continuously with the learners, otherwise learners will drift away. The role of the educator in a networked course is less about information provision and more about as a feedback agent in the system as a whole. was provided as a URL to check (CCK08/09/10). In these courses every day the tutor aggregates the posts, use Google alerts. Intentionally distressing learners, making them overwhelmed, so they can learn through complexity. The process of learning is navigating that space. Learners begin to use social systems to navigate through it, so they begin to rely on networked learning practices. The structure of sensemaking needs to occur as a product of the learning experience. The process of analytics is important: when things (posts,messages, content)  sit on a database we are able to analyse the patterns. And understand our own knowledge deficiency by interrogating our own learning process, our mindset, and our history of social interaction.

This was an inspiring talk by George, more to come tomorrow at the OU Learning in an Open World Conference… thanks for reading this long post :-)