BIS – haven’t you missed something?


Anyone reading the BIS report “International education: global growth and prosperity” (July 2013) may welcome some of the proposals within to support international students  including mentions of – introducing an effective loan repayment scheme, clarifying the visa system, and having better quality frameworks for them. Then, as with any education document these days , the report cannot take its first gasp of breath after hatching without mentioning MOOCs (massive open online courses), and they have 15 mentions in the document:

“and their (MOOC) global reach has opened up a new door to education. We need to make sure it is a door to our universities and colleges”.

The report goes on to talk about building the UK brand reputation around the world and seizing opportunities, and….hey, slow down, wait a minute? Haven’t most UK universities and many colleges been opening their doors for some years now through open education initiatives? How come these don’t get a single mention?

The world is embracing open education – MIT started sharing lectures on OpenCourseware over 10 years ago, and 81 governments and states have policies agreed or underway supporting open education for their people, so it shouldn’t be a hard sell as a means of promoting UK education? There is a common language there already and a common goal already toward global growth and prosperity built around open education.

OER

 

So I’m quite surprised that the document – talking about opening doors – strengthening the use of technology in education – fails to mention the open education activity in the UK and how open educational resources (OERs) are impacting on learners and educators globally. I think they aren’t sexy because 1) they aren’t MOOCs and part of the current hype, 2) they don’t gather fancy education analytics and 3) really, if anyone is honest, the report and MOOCs are about commerce and not auturism.

The problem with OER is they are not closed behind a software platform like so they do not gather any education analytics to support them.  Because OER are open, and sit there on the web, they don’t collect and grow user email lists, which is enough to make any markeeter lick his own eyelids in excitement. Just because you can’t directly measure their economic impact, it doesn’t mean OER have no potential or indeed have not had any indirect financial impact downstream. What you measure is not important, what you can’t measure is, blah de bla.

International links from UK OER programme 

So I just thought I’d mention some innovations from the UK OER programme (Jisc HEA 2009 – 2012) that spring to my mind that have had international impact. This will absolutely not be an exhaustive list! Some of the examples below have had demonstrable financial impact (increased number of student enrolments to university; generation of research income). [For a comprehensive analysis of the UK OER activity read the following report by McGill, Falconer, Dempster, Littlejohn and Beetham (2013)].

Enhancing the UK reputation in English language teaching and learning?

The report talks about enhancing the UK’s reputation in English language teaching and learning? Two UK initiatives spring to mind share their language expertise and educational materials openly that could provide a springboard to enhancing our international reputation? The Language Box has OER in around 50 languages, including 300 or so resources to support English teaching. The resource is led by the Universities of Southampton and Portsmouth, and have had contributions from all over the UK. LORO, from the Open University contains around 50 English teaching OER, in addition to several other languages.

UK OER reaching global audiences on iTunes

The report refers to how technology can change educational delivery, and if we want to talk about massive, open and online there are plenty of OER examples. Several UK universities (Warwick, Open University and Oxford) share podcasts on iTuneU. Oxford iTunesU, notably, has had a huge impact – massive in fact, open – truly open and not locked behind passwords and podcasts are downloadable and might help with dodgy internet connections. Just a few points:

  • The podcasts have had over 20 million downloads from iTunes U.
  • There are well over 3000 academic speakers and expert contributors.
  • The global reach is across 185 countries including US and China.

Reaching global audiences on YouTube

Many universities have open education channels on YouTube. One that springs to mind is from University of Leicester YouTube Channel housing science resources and with a focus on genetics as part of their GENIE CETL (genetics education – Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) project. One video on bone marrow aspiration has had over 144,000 views! Is that viral? (Pun intended).

Global visitors to university websites

Talking about how technology can transform education, look no further than the University of Nottingham. They have a huge number of open education activities within their Open Nottingham programme. These include open source software (Xerte course builder; ROGO assessment and feedback platform). The School of Nursing have openly shared over 200 educational resources (reusable learning objects or RLOs –  not just simply filmed videos but carefully constructed and peer-reviewed narrated animations). These reach global healthcare audiences.

Translations of UK OER into Nigerian and Brazilian

OK so I’m promoting our own project here – SCOOTER – involving Professor Simon Dyson at De Montfort University. SCOOTER is growing and still shares educational resources to promote and support sickle cell and thalassaemia education. Professor Dyson’s “Guide to Schools” supports young people with sickle cell in education, and has been translated into four Nigerian languages, and other resources into Brazilian, Spanish and Portuguese.

What about the analytics? Well I can tell you from the Google Analytics embedded onto the SCOOTER webpages, his “Guide for Schools” has had around 1000 views, and SCOOTER receives visitors and comments from around the globe, notably Brazil as the third largest visitor after the UK and the US.

Boosting research collaborations?

Everyone involved in creating OER, and particularly when talking to public and private sector collaborators, will testify how developing mutually beneficial teaching/training materials is always a very fruitful conversation to have. OER is an excuse to talk and a vehicle for establishing collaborations, which is one of the goals of the BIS report. We had a research fellow from the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship scheme work on a sickle cell health promotion game; it has been evaluated in the UK and is currently being developed further for Nigerian audiences.

Also at De Montfort, the Midwifery Open Resources for Education, led by Jacqui Williams, has held discussions with Irish and Afghan educationalists to develop and share learning materials. Incidently, many of the 30 or so midwifery resources on the YouTube MOREOER Channel were created by students themselves as part of their university internships and the midwifery programme.

How to keep up with the global market?

“As the new global market takes shape, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a world leading position”.

The global education market is changing, but markets always change. Companies such as 3M fire products out into the market, and then run with the most successful. MOOCs are the latest innovation, and as new technology emerges, new generations of learners will want to use the next greatest thing. The essential thing here is to base opportunities around good pedagogy (our knowledge of education delivery and design), and to base direction around existing evidence and not just user data. (Do MOOCs help people learn better – who knows. Do lab skills OER help students learn and build confidence, yes!).

To grow our position we are well placed to build on our expertise in open education to support learning and teaching and build global collaborations, rather than just hitching a ride on a passing MOOCwagon.

MoocWagon“Cow Power” – Johnny & Angus Blog
(but I think it is a MOOCwagon really).

Final words (phew, you say).

“By using education to strengthen our relationships with partner countries and build a platform for many other activities to our mutual benefit”.

Those involved in open education already know this! A final example is a set of teaching materials “Fast Track Analyser” developed for undergraduate biomedical science students that double as training for scientists in the NHS. The benefits are mutual, and wide ranging.