Friday, 17 December 2010

Intercontinental Re-use and Re-purposing of OERs

Last week I had the privilege of attending a seminar at the Open University entitled "Creating OER for use in Business Schools in Africa: what have we learned so far?"  where I learnt about and discussed an ABLE Ghana event involving Five Ghanaian instructors on an OER-focused visit to the Open University. Not having even really heard of open educational resources before, they were tasked with creating two OERs in two weeks: one for them to use in their own teaching, and the second for a colleague to use.

A re-purposed image in Ghana - (Monde Perso, Flickr)
Each instructor spoke enthusiastically about their OERs, all of which were collaborative efforts. They used the Open University OpenLearn site to find suitable OERs to start with, then used LabSpace to put their OERs together, and to make their new resulting OERs available for others. For example, one created an Excel spreadsheet teaching double-entry bookkeeping. Prior to this, he had always taught students to do their bookkeeping manually. It seems to me that in this case, part of that OER's message was its medium.

I had opportunity to ask these instructors what they expected would be the attitude of students to their new OERs. They replied that their students might like the OERs especially because they were based on material originating in the UK, but they did need to repurpose them so that they were in context most helpful for students in Ghana.

Another point raised was that, at best, 50% of theirstudents had previous training in the use of IT, and that the university network was prone to crashes and down time. So I asked, "What percentage of your students have a hand-held device which will play mp3 files?" 80% came the reply. I asked further, "What percentage of your students have a hand-held device which will play video?" 40% was the reply to that question. I suggested that it made sense to look at methods of making sound and video files available to students in such a way that they could be downloaded to devices and taken away from the internet.

And I wondered to myself what these percentages are for students in UK, and how quickly are we in the UK adapting our learning materials so that students can capture and consume them using their own handheld devices. This question has implications for the use of iTunes U-distributed resources.

The seminar was an excellent chance to showcase some examples of OER repurposing, not only from one institution to another but from one continent to another.

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist, Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo, and SPIDER Principal Investigator

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Apps v Free and Open Internet?

Photo courtesy Nick Weinrauch, Flickr

Continuing in a just-now-decided series of looks at "iTunes U in the Blogosphere," I refer now to a blog post from last year by Jim Groom, "5 reasons I don't like iTunesU." It is a good blog post, with many excellent comments posted afterwards.

Reason number one got my attention: "Don't trust anything without a URL." The blogger's point here is that URL-based hyperlinks which take the user to a browser is the one way to have a free and open internet environment. He quotes an article by Matt Gold, saying the "app store mentality is killing the internet."

I argued similarly in my blog post with Beyond Distance "The End of the World Wide Web Surf As We Know It?" where I wrote "app proliferation feels like a step backward into separate platform silos."

But now I am questioning myself. Is the fact that we acquire content by an application other than a browser an indication of less openness, less freedom on the web? If the application itself is free and readily available, perhaps that's enough. It should also be available on every operating system. Some criticise iTunes U solely on the basis that it does not run on Linux, and I will not say that is a trivial point.

But apps are here to stay, because mobile internet is here to stay. For many users, internet just has to be mobile; and in many cases and for many reasons with mobile internet, the app simply works better than the browser. So the goal of educators who believe in open educational resource (OER) sharing is to maintain a free and open internet environment, conducive to sharing of OERs, even if one uses an app.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Terese Bird
Learning Technologist and SPIDER Investigator