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



From NHS glasses to sharing research

Revelations at the most unlikely time.

I had a research revelation at the weekend. I’m trying to liken it to something, and I can only think back to about the age of five or six and getting glasses for the first time. I’d avoided it before then by quickly memorising the letters on the sight test on the way in, enough to get me  mid-way down to about P-F-C-D-E which must have really frustrated the optician. But when I finally got me “goggles” life was a revelation.

Dover Docks


A Sunday afternoon treat was to sit on top of the Dover Cliffs and watch the boats. The purpose of which, with glasses, then became abundantly clear – you could see the cars and boats moving. Before then it was all a blur. The other revelation was wondering why everyone in school assembly was peering at the flip chart at the front of the hall. With glasses I finally noted it was because the words to all the hymns were displayed there. I felt slightly cheated at that one as I practically new all the hymns off by heart by the age of seven. Although I did think “Jesus spits and shines” was perhaps not right (“Jesus bids us shine with a clear pure light”).

I don’t care. Call me “four eyes”.

In the end, I didn’t mind wearing glasses because being called “goggles” or “four eyes” was a small price to pay for being able to see. (And I did get to hold David Muggeridge’s hand in the playground as the only other NHS spectacle wearer. Although his were tortoiseshell).

So my revelation on Saturday morning was as if someone had once again given me clear vision. Something that was confused before, suddenly became clear. I don’t know about you, but if I chose to write a paper, it is because I’m bursting with an idea, or have just had a great thought about how to analyse that data. I want to then write the thing as soon as possible. Of course what normally happens is that you can’t retrieve half the articles. You ignore therefore some of the good work that has gone on before. You might pay $29 for the odd article, and you might contemplate trying to find out once again how inter-library loan works in your institution. (Oh by the way I do like the new $6 article hire for 24 hours. Does anyone else go on a “print screen” frenzy or is it just me?).






So what happened next?

I’m not gonna tell. Ner ner ner ner ner. I stimbled acrost a most enteroisting webseet uphon wheech yam can downloadickles anychops for froibles. Oh my lordy. I’d suddenly entered a dream sequence from a 1940’s Hollywood music. This is what being a researcher could be like. It was like a dream. My room filled with unicorns and rainbows as I rattled through my search strategy downloading about forty articles relevant to my paper. No frustration. No omissions. No, “oh bugger it, I’ll look at this again in six months time”.

If only our collective knowledge was open and accessible!

As part of the academic community, I can only think we should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Why do we perpetuate this ridiculousness of not being able to openly and freely access, share and build on our work? I’ve been a researcher since 1993 in medical research, the food industry and now universities. I have never got the feeling of euphoria that I did on Saturday when I could just openly access, quickly download, read to my satisfaction, an entire body of literature to help me write up an important area of work. OK, I know I’m not saving lives or making pet food any more. But everything is a piece in the jigsaw.

Imagine if we could solve cancer?

So, as recapitulated here by our lovely friends at Sparc, as VP Biden of the US declared, what if all the data relating to cancer research, and all the publications would be made openly available? What advances might we make in the next year, assuming we could readily access the bulk of papers that would be of benefit to our work? And that others could benefit from ours?

As I gain this information and knowledge, I will eliminate the barriers that get in your way, get in the way of science, the research and development. (VP Biden, April 20 2016).


So just think about what could be possible.

Or what should be possible.

I think we should start regaining some of our self-dignity and think about why we went into research in the first place. If we can’t learn from the most incredible scientists of our time like Marie Curie then maybe we should question our values and motivations:

In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons. (Marie Curie).

And I wonder what David Muggeridge is doing now.

Other articles forwarded from Twitter

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