Going open, what does it really mean?

Openness was the theme of the EC SIG meeting hosted by the Jorum team earlier this week at the University of Manchester.

The CETIS community has been actively engaged with the open source movement for the past couple of years, and although we have been keeping a watching brief on developments such as the OpenLearn, we haven’t really been as engaged with the open content movement. However with the announcement that Jorum was planning to become an open service, it seemed timely to have revisit the notion of open content and look at the many and varied aspects of producing, sharing and re-using open content.

To set the scene in the morning, Cormac Lawler and John Casey gave presentations from the content creator and the content distributer points of view.

Cormac gave us an overview of the Wikiversity Project which he is actively engaged in and some of the issues that the project is grappling with in terms of creating an open learning space. One of the key challenges they are facing is trying to decide when a resource is complete – or if there are stages of creation that can be identified and tagged is some way. Some educational resources may never be complete and there is, I feel, an underlying assumption that once material is published in someway that it is complete – even it it is put in an editable space such as a wiki. Using an open wiki based philosophy in education challenges some of the editorial notions associated with wikipedia, particularly in terms of allowing branching or different points of views to be expressed. However as Cormac illustrated how open are we really about our educational content? Do we want for example to have extreme, un-pc material available – or at least allow people the right to publish it? Can/should our education system ever be that open?

John Casey then outlined the journey that Jorum is taking in trying to become a more open service. John outlined some of the political issues surrounding the whole notion of openness, relating it to use of common land and the erosion of that system through the development of a property owning society. He also pointed out how risk averse institutional management are regarding rights for learning materials, but they don’t seem to have the same problems with other (arguably higher risk associated) projects such as major building works and IT systems.

Liam Earney from JISC Collections gave us an overview of the RePRODUCE project. Liam and his colleague Caren Milloy are providing support in IPR and copyright for the projects. One key issue that seems to be coming up is that it is crucial for projects to think about the staff time issues relating IPR/copyright issues when they are writing their project bid. Liam pointed to what he described as the clash between academic and publishing cultures. Leaving two weeks at the end of the project to sort out the IPR stuff isn’t really going to work 🙂

The afternoon was given over to discussion. To help frame the discussion, Phil Barker from the MDR SIG, shared some reflections on what he thought we should be working towards in terms of creating valuable learning content for students. Phil put forward the case that communities of subject based disciplines were probably best placed to really figure out what content needed to be created/re-purposed etc.

The discussion was wide and varied, with lots of input from everyone in the room. It is difficult to summarize all the points made, however some of the key points that did come up were:
*process is more important than content
*sorting out institutional processes for IPR can be a positive driver for change
*funding bodies should make projects more accountable for creating open content and populating repositories such as Jorum, and ensuring that IPR and rights aren’t seen as last minute tasks
*the value of educational resources needs explored in more detail – can we really qualify what we mean by a valuable piece of learning content?
*some things are maybe best not open
*the notion of an open learning space is really in its infancy but could (already is) providing many exciting opportunities for teaching and learning.
*web 2.0 techniques can help us make our “stuff” more discoverable, and we should look to the tips and techniques of popular sites and try and learn from their practice
*education should be smarter about developing content and learn from publishers e.g. recognise the need for more professional processes, different types of staff (learning technologist, developers, and academics).

More information including slidecasts from the day are available from the wiki.

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