What does open mean beyond releasing content? #porousuni

I’m really looking forward to the Porous University Symposium being held at UHI, Inverness next week.  The event is fundamentally an opportunity to create some space to create/extend conversations around open-ness.   There are no formal presentations or papers instead:

the symposium will be structured around a number of short provocations that address specific questions or issues, followed by break-out discussion and opportunities to further explore and synthesise the thinking that emerges.

In the spirit of open-ness here is my provocation. It’s much more about stimulating and continuing an already rich dialogue. Please feel free to add any of your thoughts in the comments and will incorporate them into the discussion, or tweet using #porousuni.

What does open mean beyond releasing content?

This blog post from Alan Levine gives a helpful definition of the differences between porosity and permeability.

when you say porosity it really means just the volumetric measure of open space. If you want a metaphor, maybe this is measure of “openness” in terms of 5Rs.

But when you say permeability you are talking about the ease of moving something through that space, and while the amount of space is a factor, others influence whether that can happen. Specifically that could mean if the spaces are well interconnected, like pathways, like networks? Maybe that is practice or pedagogy?

So in terms of the porous university maybe we need to be focusing on the permeability of people (staff, students, the wider community) and the ways we navigate through university spaces, both physical and digital.

So what does open porosity actually look like in practice? Is it about formal (licensed) open content and infrastructures or is it human processes, practice and connections?

During April there has been quite a wide-ranging debate on the definition of open pedagogy facilitated through the Year of Open. Should it be defined and aligned only to the 5Rs of retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute? Does using the term pedagogy actual create more exclusion? Is open practice far more permeable, inclusive and powerful?

In these challenging times open has to mean more than content it has to be building and sustaining open networks and connections. However, is an obsession with licensed content, our academic discourse(s), our research outputs actually narrowing the opportunities for open education outwith the academy?

Recommended viewing/reading.


Where Sheila’s been this week: opening up at the Open University

Earlier this week (and boy did I have to get up early for this one!) I presented at the Computers in Learning Research Group (CARLG) seminar at the Open University in Milton Keynes.  My talk “open education: research and reality” was primarily aimed a a group of new PhD students who are all researching various aspects of open education.

I used the invitation to take a reflective look at my own experiences of open education, my the evolution of my open practice and my relationship with research around open education. “Open Me” could well have been a more apt title for my talk, as I really used this phrase as a statement and as an invitation to explore the layers of my open practice. I used the Russian Doll metaphor to explain some the different layers and combinations of open-ness I experience.

picture of Russian doll

Much of my open-ness stems from my blogging activity, and I actively encouraged this group of new researchers to be as open in their research as early as possible.  I think I may have succeeded.


I always enjoy visiting the OU, but this visit was made even more special as I finally got to meet Helen Crump in person as she is one of the a-fore mentioned new PhD students. Helen and I met through open education (via the OLDS MOOC) and have had quite an open adventure together, not only studying together but being part of a collaborative writing team.  I count Helen not only as a colleague but as a friend. A friendship that was created and is sustained via open education.

You can view my presentation here, and there’s a recording on YouTube.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – RIP Jorum 

Typcial! The day I on holiday is the day that the announcement about the retirement and refresh of our national open learning repository, Jorum, is announced. I think the news came as a surprise to many, partly because it’s not quite clear just what the refreshed version will actually be, and just what kind of open it will be.

Unlike some of my former Cetis colleagues like Lorna, I haven’t had any direct involvement with the development of Jorum. However, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for it. Mainly because I felt it got an lot of unfair press in its early days, and that was due it being an idea just a little bit ahead of its time in terms of easy implementation and adoption. I remember the struggles trying to get instituitions to sign up to use it – legal-ese heaven for some; the struggles with content packages, the metadata, the federated searche engines – happy days😉

Back in the day, there was always a bit of eye rolling and sighing from certain quarters whenever JORUM ( and at that time it was upper case) was mentioned. I think many of those people forgot that any system at that time would have had to contend with the early licence issues, the technical issues of uploading content etc. Despite all of this, Jorum kept going, growing and developing. Its transition form into an open repository was a testament to all who worked on it, and also to Jisc in terms of supporting open education. Like many others, the news this week has surprised me and made me feel a little bit sad.

This is where I have to “fess up”. I have never put anything into Jorum, and can’t actually remember the last time I looked at it. But, and of course there has to be a but, I have always encouraged others to use it whenever and wherever I could. It was like Elvis said, always on my mind, when taking about OERs and indeed educational resources in general. 

So, maybe a new app/refresh approach might actually help me and others like me to share my stuff in/on whatever the new Jorum might be. It could be another step forward in the cultural and practice issues around sharing “stuff” which is at the heart of opened education.

In the meantime tho’, it does feel a bit like that Joni Mitchell song  . . . You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone . . . And maybe in this case it’s a bit orange taxi . . . 

What Sheila’s seen this week: learning analytics policy for students and lots of open-ness

This week I’ve been doing lots of writing as part of my application for HEA fellowship. I’m doing this via the portfolio route of GCUs AcceleRATE CPD programme. Over the past 6 years, I’ve become increasingly reliant of my blog as my professional memory.  In many ways it is my portfolio and one my main contributions to open practice. As I develop my case studies for my HEA application, it has proved to be an invaluable reference point,  as well as reminding myself that I actually do know a wee bit about a lot of stuff.

Martin Weller wrote a nice post this week on the benefits of an open by default approach. One of the comments highlighted another benefit of being open – that it’s easier to find your own stuff. I have certainly found that this week. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I keep blogging.

I also spotted that there has been an update to the Open Education Handbook from the Linked Up project  – lovely example of open practice creating a resource on open education.

It was also great to see this article on the OU’s policy on the ethical use of student data for learning analytics.  I know Sharon Slade has been working on this for a number of years now. The policy and the FAQ (both available on the OU website) are really useful – not just for students but for anyone who is thinking about or implementing learning analytics. Hopefully it will be available via CC soon too. Another win for open-ness.

What Sheila’s seen this week – human OERs, still useful life in twitter yet and being nice

I’v had one of those weeks where I feel I haven’t been looking at twitter, reading blog posts interacting with my online networks very much this week. F2F communication and getting “stuff” done has taken over this week. However the serendipitous joy of twitter still held true for me when top of my stream yesterday afternoon was a link from Gardner Campbell

to this marvelous post A human OER. It really resonated with how I feel about openness, sharing practice and some of the thorny issues of being connected including something I do worry about – open cliques. You know the places where all the ed-tech hipsters hang out, which despite being open are actually quite scary for some of us to join. I really recommend reading the article, but here are a couple of key quotes for me:

I want to be part of the larger whole, not just the subset. . .

“We talk about tolerance, equality, and goodwill, power dynamics exist in the shadow of groups perhaps too often. These get played out covertly, unspoken and our options when we do not like it are limited. Stay and comply or leave. Sometimes it is possible to shape the conversation, yet in order to do this one needs to meet the majority where it is and speak ‘their’ language before being heard. The type of interaction remains unchanged as the players change. I see people arrange themselves in tribes of like minded people and travel together. Humans do this physically as well as virtually. We choose our clubs.

This sorting process, by definition, includes some people and excludes others.

I have been very lucky so far in my online interactions, I have a fantastically supportive, tolerant, funny, intelligent network. I have only received 2 abusive tweets. Yet I am aware of the horrific abuse many women face when they speak out on social networks. I do feel that leaving networks just gives more power to the trolls but I totally understand why some people do.

There is a backlash about twitter not being like it used to be. It has evolved, and yes the adverts and changing views of my stream are annoying, but I still get value from it. I think it still offers a way of communicating and sharing that I would sadly miss if it wasn’t there. I haven’t found anything that replaces it – and I have tried.

I try to be nice to people online and offline, I’ve never been ashamed of being nice. Martin Weller has blogged about Nice as an energy – again worth a read. Martin points out that angry is easy, being nice actually takes more effort. Ultimately I think is worth it – particularly if you want to get things done or actually get peoples long-term support, trust and understanding. And isn’t that at the core of any kind of educational practice? Also when you are nice, if you are ever angry people tend to listen. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry – luckily most of the time I’m not. Though apparently according to those who know me well I am quite stubborn . . . but I am a Taurean . . .

The Golden Horns of Taurus
(image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSM_V32_D530_The_golden_horns_of_taurus.jpg)

Where Sheila’s been this week – revisiting #OERRHub and the researcher as an API analogy

I spent the early part of this week in Milton Keynes with the OER Research Hub team as part of the second phase of the project evaluation.

When I worked with the team last year one of the things that intrigued me about the project was the fact that they were planning to apply and adapt an agile programming  approach to the project.

As I pointed out then, I felt there could be challenges with this as typically the outputs from research projects aren’t as concrete as most software development products, but I could see the attraction of this approach.

Bringing researchers who form part of a globally distributed team together for set periods to focus on certain aspects of research project does make sense. As does having some kind of structure, particularly for focusing “group minds” on potential outputs (products), adaptation of peer programming could be useful for peer review etc. However implementing “proper” agile programming methodology to research is problematic.

But if we stick with the programming analogy and stop thinking in terms of products, and start thinking of research as a service (akin to software as a service) then maybe there is more milage. A key part of SaS approaches are APIs, allowing hooks into all sorts of sites/ services so that they can in effect talk to each other.

The key thing therefore is for the researcher to think of themselves more as the interface between their work, the data, the findings, the “what actually happened in the classroom” bits and focus on ways to allow as wide a range of stakeholders to easily “hook” into them so they can use the outputs meaningfully in their own context.

In many ways this is actually the basis of effective digital scholarship in any discipline and of course what many researchers already do.

A year on, and after experiencing one of the early project sprints how has it worked out?

Well everyone knew that the project wouldn’t be following a strict agile methodology, however key aspects, such as the research sprints have proved to be very effective. Particularly in focusing the team on outputs.

The sprints have allowed the overall project management to be more agile and flexible. They have brought focus and helped the team as a whole stay on track but also refocus activity in light of the challenges (staff changes, delays to getting surveys started etc) that any research project has to deal with. As this is very much a global research project, the team have spent large chunks of time on research visits, going to conferences etc so when they are “back at the ranch” it has been crucial that they have a mechanism not only to report back and update their own activities but also to ensure that everyone is on track in terms of the project as a whole.

The sprints themselves haven’t been easy, and have required a lot of planning and management. The researchers themselves admit to often feeling resentment at having to take a week out of “doing work” to participate in sprints. However, there is now an acknowledgement that they have been central to ensure that the project as a whole stays on track and that deliverables are delivered.

I was struck this week by how naturally the team talked about the focus of their next sprint and how comfortable and perhaps more importantly confident they were about what was achievable. It’s not been easy but I think the development, and the sustaining of the research sprint approach over the project lifespan has paid dividends.

Returning to the wider API issue, last year I wrote

I wonder if the research as API analogy could help focus development of sharing research outputs and developing really effective interactions with research data and findings?

Again, one year can I answer my own question? Well, I think I can. From discussions with the team it is clear that human relationships have been key in developing both the planned and unexpected collaborations that the project has been undertaking. At the outset of the project a number of key communities/agencies were identified as potential collaborations. Some to these collaborators had a clear idea of the research they needed, others not so much. In every case as the research team have indeed been acting as “hooks” into the project and overall data collection strategy.

These human relationships have been crucial in focusing data collection and forging very positive and trusted relationships between the Hub and its collaborators. Having these strong relationships is vital for any future research and indeed, a number of the collaborations have extended their own research focus and are looking to work with the individual team members on new projects. As findings are coming through, the Hub are helping to stimulate more research into the impact of OER and support an emerging research community.

One of the initial premises for the project was the lack of high quality research into the impact of OER, they are not only filling that gap, but now also working with the community to extend the research. Their current Open Research course is another example of the project providing more hooks into their research, tools and data for the wider community.

The project is now entering a new phase, where it is in many ways transitioning from a focus on collecting the data, to now sharing the data and their findings. They are now actually becoming a research hub, as opposed to being a project talking about how they are going to be a hub. In this phase the open API analogy (imho) can only get stronger. If it doesn’t then everyone loses, not just the project, but the wider open education community.

The project does have some compelling evidence of the impact of using OER on both educators and learners (data spoiler alert: some of the differences between these groups may surprise you), potential viable business models for OER, and some of the challenges, particularly around encouraging people to create and share back their own OERs. For me this is particularly exciting as the project has some “proper” evidence , as opposed to anecdotes, showing the cultural impact OER is having on educational practice.

In terms of data, the OER Impact Map, is key hook into the visualizing and exploring the data the project has been collecting and curating. Another phase of development is about to get under way to provide even more ways to explore the data. The team are also now planning the how/where/when of releasing their data set.

The team are the human face of the data, and their explanations of the data will be key to the overall success of the project over the coming months.

More thoughts to come from me on the project as a whole, my role and agile evaluation in my next post.

#GCUGamesOn – timeline of development

Our online event, GCU Games On, drew to a close last Friday, 8th August. We’re giving a couple more days for participants to fill in our evaluation. In the meantime I’ve been playing around
experimenting with timelines. As I posted previously, we moved from initial idea to going live on Open Education by Blackboard in a month, so a lot happened in a short space of time and I wanted to try and capture that.

I came across a 3-D timeline software package called BeeDocs, which is quite swishy. There is a free version available but it’s only for iOS.  If you upgrade to paid version you get more sharing features including keynote/powepoint export and web hosting. Unfortunately the web version it saves is 2-D which you can see here.

So, I’ve just made a screen recording of the 3-D version ( music, sound effects, narration maybe later). I think the timeline will be really useful for presentations about the event. The screenrecording isn’t as sharp as the “real thing” but hopefully you get the idea.

I’ve excluded lots of “stuff” but hopefully it gives an overview of the key stages of development.