Open education! Open education? Open. Education.

UNESCO (2016) believes that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building.

UNESCO Paris (2002). Participants then adopted a Final Declaration (Annex 6) in which they “express their satisfaction and their wish to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity, to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources.”

The Cape Town Declaration (2007) (supported by Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Shuttleworth Foundation) stated…we are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

I do love the global open education community because it gave me a home where my ideas for education could be firmly routed. I have shared open educational resources (OER) for over ten years. The aspirations above have inspired me, my colleagues and my students. But you know what, unless we actually evaluate these objectives, we will never know what we have actually achieved!!! So come one, we all need to wake up to the idea of sharing our research strategies to carry out some good evaluations of where we are.

Avon - Blake 7


(And if you don’t know about Blake 7. You should. And goodbye for the next few hours, days or weeks –

I know research takes a huge amount of time and effort. But couldn’t we sneak just one or two little questions in, really?

These are super papers out this summer:

Nicole Delimont (2016),
Kansas State University


524 students were surveyed and 13 faculty teachers were interviewed regarding the adoption of open books on a range of biology and maths subjects. That is a considerable chunk of work. Students were kinda satisfied. There again, if you ask students anything, they are generally kinda satisfied. But what about those who might not have afforded education in the first place, or those who learn in different ways? Did using open textbooks transform their experiences, because I’d really love to know.

I loved the faculty (teaching staff) responses – generally finding the adoption and repurposing of textbooks rather difficult but absolutely rating their experience with this open text book initiative as very strong. This study is super as it gets beneath the surface, and the open questions and answers start to reveal the benefits of open texts in that they are more up to date and customisable. Student responses to the use of an open textbook were firstly financial, they supported the idea and they liked having an online book.

But as Peggy Lee once sang, “Is that all there is”? “Then let’s keep dancing”.


Olga Belikov (2016), Brigham Young University.


Another paper just out, is on 218 faculty (teacher) responses as part of the 2014 ‘Babson’ survey. Staff were asked about their perceptions of OER and were invited to leave an ‘open’ response at the end of the survey. The top three barriers were – need more information, lack of discoverability and confusing OER with other digital resources. In terms of positive responses, the top response was a generally positive idea that this is “the way of the future”, that OER contributed to better student costs and equity of study, and that resources were equal to traditional materials.

The open comments are as always very revealing, but I wonder if responses for a wider and more varied population (as part of a series of studies), would give rise to a broader framing of the barriers and incentives to using OER or open textbooks? And why not include some of the bigger ambitions of the OER community round diversity and opportunity? This study and many others is really interesting – around 10% of students have different learning needs, yet, this isn’t at the front of our minds.


Barbara Stack Illowsky (2016), Foothill-De Anza Community College District (USA) and a multi-centre research collaboration.


This is a nicely conducted study that has asked students about their perceptions of cost and quality of open texts adopted for the teaching of statistics. 231 students completed the survey. The survey results were nice and gave a good glimpse into student textbook purchasing habits – something of which we know very little. Although the texts were offered for free online, some students liked a printed copy. The numbers of hours a week used was similar to other texts, and always rather disappointingly, in terms of quality, the majority saw the open text equal or better than the commercially available alternative. Only 13% saw it as worse. Either students have different understanding of the term ‘quality’ as we do, which I suspect, or the book was released in a similar format and didn’t intend to explore any more creative elements – collaboration, multimedia, links to further resources.

It is interesting that students when offering feedback will often use words like “confusing” and not “comprehensive”. What does this really mean? When we questioned students about what they valued in terms of resources, they referred to ease of discovery, quick to use, and resources that didn’t require time and effort to understand. This might be quite different from the ambitions of faculty and teaching staff.

“The book is written simply and clearly. This made it easy to understand and less ‘taxing’ to read. The collaborative aspect of the course built in the text encourages group learning which I have found to be beneficial to my learning.” (Illowsky paper).



These studies are insightful and I am no way intending to underplay the huge amount of work that has gone into them. These are fantastic initiatives and clearly open education is reaching out to hundreds of students. However I am just being inquisitive regarding some of the more interesting goals that the community talks about yet never really evaluates:

  1. Does open education offer equal opportunities for all those who wish to learn and to reap the benefits that education can offer, or even a short course or forming a network can offer?
  2. Does open eduction address social inequality and other recognised inequalities within our education systems, such as in “Causes in differences of student outcomes“?
  3. Does open education offer a high quality education – linked to sustainability and peace?
  4. Are we really addressing access and accessibility?

Evaluation is central to us all achieving these goals – I look to the US, Africa and elsewhere for evidence to present to decision makers in MY country. So go on, sling in a few interesting questions. If you don’t, Avon will come after you.

Avon Blake 7



Give me an OER every time!

Jisc Digifest 2014WOW! The highlight of open education week for me undoubtably was Jisc Digifest 2014.

It was so packed with festival goodies that it was difficult to chose which sessions to attend, and then what highlights to write about. So here are a few, and some additional blogs for extra reading.


Jisc Digital Festival 2014

A rather shaky start!

The festival kicked off with a number of excellent speakers including Diana Oblinger from Educause. Along with the Jisc executive, I was soon launched into a rather unexpected and terrifying commercial world, with language including “service users”, “consumers”, with educational goals including “margins” and “metrics”. I did start to wonder what on earth had I attended this for.

Whether this was the intention of Jisc, along with the rather lovely but somewhat incongruous technology companies and suppliers in the main auditorium, to be moving toward a more corporate purpose I’m not sure? This was alongside one of the opening speakers talking about educational delivery (deliverology aggh), 3 month degrees, and I was beginning to think this all just reeked like the onion rings of the “Macdonaldisation” of education. I must say I entered the coffee break very depressed. But from that point on, it was clear that the conference delegates were having none of it! None of it I say!

The festival was about people!

I was rather thinking that a digital festival would be very technology-centric and all about the tools, but I was completely wrong. The next two days without exception, it was all about the people. The users, students, educators, technologists, librarians, members of museum staff, geologists and a wide range of delegates in attendance. And a few students but not enough. The festival attracted a diverse group of people which was refreshing and provided rich discussions in the workshops. For the win!

And Jisc is about people!

Each session was led by a member of the various Jisc teams, and I hope that Jisc in its corporate reshaping, does not forget to cherish their most valuable asset. Any company is only as good as its staff, and Jisc is about expertise, collegiality, enthusiasm and support. They are some of the most talented individuals I have ever worked with across any organisation.

OK. Now for the highlights.

Wikipedia: a platform for learners as producers.

Martin Poulter from Bristol University talked about a series of case studies that had involved students in Wikipedia writing and editing. Unbeknownst to most people I suspect including me – and I’m just doing a Wikipedia course myself – is that the level of writing, the need for accuracy, the need for good evidence and referencing, the need to work as part of a community – are all adopted to a very high standard. As Martin said:

Wikipedia values are scholarly values.

What a great thing for transferable skills and allowing students to be part of global communities and the knowledge economy. And it is open of course.

Open access monograph publishing

Amazing stories by Brian hole (Ubiquity Press, UCL), Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers Cambridge) and Martin Paul Eve (Open Library of Humanities, Lincoln). Each had a similar tale, naffed-off by the publishing industry so decided to set up themselves. Their books are free to access online, often openly licensed, and are certainly putting valuable subjects back on the map that publishers had little commercial interest in. They claimed that their websites were easily pulled together using Scribd online reader, Google books and Lighteningsource electronic printing solutions. I did struggle with the CC BY license, so yes, if I was savvy, I would set up a publishers in China, take the content, repackage and sell. As they pointed out, all the good for the distribution. Well, actually, yes! Genius.

My lasting concern though still of the CC BY license was how to preserve the quality and authenticity of the work. But knowing these guys, they’ll come up with a solution to that.

Digital content sustainability and entrepreneurship

Naomi Korn ( Naomi Korn Consulting ) and Stuart Dempster, Jisc. Well this was just too good to miss. How many conference workshops can you say were so good that you stole the flip charts afterwards? *confession*.

This was particularly pertinent to me because I run three open education websites which I financially maintain, albeit for the cost of probably a bottle of wine a week, it is certainly worth it. This session gave me the structure of a business model to consider based around the overall goals of the site – to maintain or to grow. Well grow I say!!! There are only so many hours in my days I can sit around my kitchen table supporting VAL, SCOOTER and BIOLOGY COURSES, and I now have a plan. Things to consider:

  • Institutional ownership – far to many projects are pioneered by individuals and are never preserved by their institutions. A must for sustainability.
  • Digital preservation – we can’t future-proof everything, but releasing materials openly licensed, using open source and not locked in behind proprietary software. Multiple file formats please.
  • Existing and “outside of the box” revenue streams, or crowdsourcing a bit of money to pay the costs.

For more information, the Jisc Strategic Content Alliance has a heap of resources on this very subject, and I’ll be delving in very shortly.

The future of research – are you ready?

By Jeremy Frey and other contributors. I’m waiting for the Digifest site to publish the content and full list of contributors.

This was a mind blowing session. There is a rapid move toward publicly funded research in the UK making it mandatory to openly share all research data. The pain of the learning curve for open educational resources I remember was quite significant but achievable with the right support. The pain of this I feel will be much greater. It will require huge cultural changes to ways of working.

But new technology is helping – digital notebooks, data companies, increased collaboration between laboratories and transparency. Of course there are massive implications for individuals, departments and universities and much pain to go through before amazing benefits can be achieved.

I’m thinking – hurrah – the honest publication of research data that will at last overcome the bias of publication where mostly only POSITIVE findings are revealed. But would I want to reveal my scruffy notebooks to the world? And again, although it wasn’t clear if this would be openly licensed, but how would you prevent plagiarism, or even define it, if any researcher could pool data from a number of researchers, and republish? I guess that is the process of meta-analysis, so there would need to be assurances that the originator would be fully attributed. Fine, but not sure how you would police that.

Whatever happened to the MOOC?

Of course I’m going to pick this panel session because I was very kindly invited to participate, and what a mind-blowing panel talking about global open education in terms of history, university policy, activity in Scotland, applications to post-graduate teaching certificates, open educational science resources, and university courses that have gone totally and mindblowingly open.

It was quite telling, that during the entire course of the conference, MOOCs were barely mentioned. In fact I only recall one reference by Diana Oblinger in her keynote questions:

I would suggest that even though quite a lot of people are excited about MOOCs, …. they are a form of brand extension. It is not designed to be a course. They are hugely expensive and their audience is not traditional students.

Enough of silly MOOCs. The session was led by the irrepressible, irresponsible, unbelievable David Kernohan in his Chas n Dave t-shirt.

Digifest Lineup
(Me), Antonio Arboleda, Lou McGill, David Kernohan, Lorna Campbell, George Roberts, Jonathon Worth.

And if that wasn’t enough of a panel, on video was: Audrey Watters, David Wiley and Jim Groom.

Some wonderful examples of the power of opening up classrooms were told and have been written about elsewhere today:,


And finally, futurology?


The final conference speaker was Ray Hammond, a futurologist. Ray spoke about many things and how they will affect us. He missed out one very important thing though.


The future is absolutely and most definitely OPEN!



It feels only right to finish on a song!

Heaps of free student study skills resources!


I was just pulling some resources together for project students to help them get started, and when I searched the web I found this fantastic webpage by Viv Sieber at the University of Surrey. It knocked me dead when I first saw it a few years back at a conference, and it has just knocked me dead again.

Link to Study Skills OER University of Surrey OPEN student skills portal built by Viv Sieber. (CLICK on the image to go and use! Or here is the URL )

This is a prime example of why universities and colleges SHOULD be using open educational resources (OER) – that is, openly licensed learning materials created by experts that we can all share. Imagine, there are over 100 universities in the UK, and each one this time of year, will be brushing up their learning materials to provide THE SAME introductory information to their new students, and in my case THE SAME “getting started with research” – type information for their project students. That has to be a waste of time and somebody’s money!

About the portal

As you click through the various areas you’ll be connected through to a number of UK universities or a number of open education collaborations that have arisen over the years. This means:

1) The materials (pictures, photographs, animations, video) will all have been copyright checked and openly licensed for your use.

2) All the materials are developed by experts within the UK higher education setting so will be of top quality and you can confidently use it. Remember students, if you ARE just finding information on the internet, you need to appraise the source to ensure it is good quality.

3) As a member of staff (academic, librarian, student support officer), this resource will save you time in preparing identical materials, or at least provide you with an open license so you may be able to repurpose some of it. Do look for the terms of the Creative Commons licenses being used.

But will it be relevant to me, at my university?

On the whole YES! Whenever I use this resource I struggle to find something that I think won’t work for my students. For example, definitions of academic offences and use of referencing systems will be identical between universities, although the REGULATIONS behind them might be different. The IT skills resources all seem to be for the most up-to-date software versions. Things like CV tips and interview skills are all pretty generic.

A big round of applause for the  University of Surrey for compiling and sharing this excellent resource.