#change11 Openness Community

As promised in my previous post, here is the text to initiate the institutional Openness Community. It was originally intended as an email, hence the request to email me in response – but interested people can add comments, tweet me, or email me.

Openness Community

I am currently creating a community to work collectively on the concept of openness in education. The intention is to develop an Open Educational Practice (OEP) within the community that can then be shared more widely. However, this is not a theoretical exercise, I’m interested in putting this into practice to create new and use existing resources, working openly.

To achieve this vision we will need to examine areas including

  • the production of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Courseware (OCW),
  • how to produce material to open standards for re-use by others,
  • how we would want to license such material under a Creative Commons Licence,
  • examine what software and services to use for production and hosting,
  • how to re-use existing OER appropriately,
  • where and how to access open resources including open textbooks,
  • the sharing of useful generic and subject specific resources including the creation of resource directories,
  • defining appropriate quality controls for production and prior to consumption.

The community can start from the foundations of the work of

  • UNESCO Open Educational Resources,
  • The Cape Town Open Education Declaration,
  • The Open Courseware Consortium, and
  • Open Educational Quality Initiative (OPAL).

There are a number of toolkits, frameworks and publicity materials available that we can use to inform and develop our practice. In addition, there are some significant ongoing research projects including those funded by the JISC and HEA that we can draw upon, as well as various experts and advocates in the subject.

The intention is that this is a grassroots community, pulling together like-minded individuals to create something larger than its constituent parts and furthering the mutual interest of openness across the campus and, hopefully, beyond.

Some areas where I personally would like to see experimentation might include

  • development and delivery of a course that uses only Open Content and OER as an example of potential,
  • providing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) within 12 months,
  • development of a peer reviewed Open Journal,
  • development and running of an Open Conference within 12 months,
  • producing an open textbook.

If you have a passion for, interest in, or useful practical knowledge of openness in education and would like to be involved in shaping the direction of this community, please drop me an email in the first instance. I will draw up a list of participants and convene an initial meeting and we will take things from there.

Kind regards
Mark Morley


Aping Evolution – BBC Radio 4

I recently caught the end of a BBC Radio 4 programme called Aping Evolution (potentially only available to listen to for a limited period). It was the second in a series of two programmes.

It was an interesting and thought-provoking piece, which I want to highlight a few points from.

Firstly, a point was discussed about at what age people decide to have children, and how this can be quite different within a UK city; a matter of a mile apart the average age that a woman decides to have children might be 21, whereas a mile down the road it could be 31, and that is a significant difference. A large factor in this choice would seem to be the differences in expectations from life. If, for example, there is an expectation of being a single mother with a reliance on the help of your own mother to assist with child care then this needs to be done while the mother’s mother is still young enough and capable of helping. This decision is taken on a subconscious level. And though there’s an emphasis on improving sex education for children in the UK, it is actually an improvement in expectation from life that needs emphasis by policy makers; and the instilling of the concept that there are things in later life that are worth waiting for and putting other things off for. To achieve this requires improvements in things like access to collage and university, with the potential to get a better job with greater life prospects.

Another point from the programme was that the amount of time that parents can dedicate to their children significantly improved the prospects of those children. So this includes the time parents have to play games with their children, take then to sporting activities, and so on.

A final point I’d like to pick  up on from the programme is about community and the work of Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology in the School of Anthropology, and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. His work has shown that each of us have a series of circles of people in our relationships. The first inner circle sees about five close friends and relations, and this is the intimate, emotional support level. The second layer is at about 12-15, where less intimate support and friendship takes place. It isn’t by chance that a large proportion of team sports have player numbers around this range. This number appears a lot in culture and society, 12 member of a jury for example. The next level up is a closed community. The human neocortex part of the brain has evolved to enable us to work well with groups of up to about 150. This is the number at which we can understand how we relate to the people in the group and how they relate to each other.

The MP David Willetts, as the Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, finds this interesting and it has prompted him to consider differences in behaviour between schools with smaller numbers of pupils and larger schools. There is a tendency for there to be poorer behaviour by pupils where numbers are higher. One argument being that in smaller schools all the pupils can know each other by name and therefore relate much better to each other. The programme gave an example of one school where the headmaster had restructured the school along the 150 people lines.

This raises questions from me about online communities. What number of member within an online community is it possible to still have meaningful relationships with those member? Does this figure of 150 still hold?

Openness via Martin Weller

I really like Martin Weller’s thinking, and have referenced him during presentations in the past. I enjoy his ‘The Ed Techie’ blog, and his comments often get me thinking.

Today I had the pleasure of reading his Reflections on openness post. Whilst reading it and watching his presentation via Elluminate I typed the following.

Surely if you where going to start a university now, you wouldn’t do it.

Universities would seem to be institutions designed to perpetuate elitism. With open education are we really still tied into the promotional rewards of these institutions. Should the emphasis in reward come from the community and its valuing of the resources you provide to them, the time you invest, the quality of the discussions you initiate/perpetuate? I believe one has to question from a society perspective the value of closed environments for education now; when digital resources are enabling free access by anyone to some of the greatest thinkers in the world, and providing a platform for anyone with a well-reasoned opinion to be heard and entered into dialogue with. We no longer have to be told who the experts are, we can make a more valued judgement ourselves. I’m not foolish enough to believe that the openness presented to us by this digital world will lead to a free, utopian education for all, and the demise and dismantling of universities, but there are people willing to provide their time and effort to assist by freely sharing their time and resources without necessarily requiring re-numeration for their work. Creative Commons is showing us that.

Whilst accessing Martin’s post, I also had the pleasure of following Mark Smither’s link to his blog. Here is someone else whose writing are going to influence some of my thinking from now on.

I love this social web thingy, and the path of inquiry it can lead you on; a winding path for sure, but one with many places of interest.

I’ve been following Martin on Twitter for a while, and I’m now also following Mark.

A couple of other things occurred to me whilst reading the post and response:

Has the idea of a journal gone to the wall, when open information can have reviewed directly by the community – i.e. peer review?

The Cloudworks concept seems to be looking at unifying resources, a concept that I considered a couple of years ago and then abandoned. It seemed to me more appropriate to retain information on the open web and search for it there, rather than ‘close’ it down again; cloudworks  potentially is an elitist approach attempting to corral and vet information and therefore a philosophy I don’t necessarily hold with. Not even sure it will work. Howard Rheingold created something similar, and I found I didn’t have the time to engage with that. I’m personally moving further away from several Ning based communities for similar reasons or time and access.

Community – Comments by Nancy White

I came across these comment by Nancy White, thanks to Robin Good, in which she talks about Communities; how to nurture them, what community members are looking for, issues of trust and digital identity. I thought they were well worth sharing.

Nurturing Community

Keeping communities going

People socializing

Losing community trust

Digital Identity issues

The Student Learning Community – Learning & Teaching Conference, Sheffield, January 2008

The presentation for this conference paper, including embedded video, is available.

For me Web 2.0 is a philosophy – a way of working and living, as much as it is the software and services commonly expressed as web 2.0

It is this concept that the Student Learning Community aims to capture when the concept is realised.

Starting from the basics. There is now an ever increasing number (on a daily basis) of services, software and facilities that can be run or accessed over the web. Many provide additional functionality beyond what is available via the desktop on a PC or even a Mac. And an additional appeal is the zero cost of many of them. Because they are online they are easily accessible from different devices; anytime, anywhere. And they can allow collective or collaborative working, or sharing of resources.

This vast host of services and functionality can enable quicker, smarter, easier, more creative and imaginative ways of working. And it is this specifically I envisage the Student Learning Community fostering amongst individual students and the student body more collectively. But another important factor is (as already mentioned) that there are far too many services and software for any one person to keep pace with, and a community approach is, I believe, required to enable groups to really take advantage of what the technology offers. Similarly, as the quantity of information mushrooms, there will be an increasing reliance on others to act as filtering mechanism for us, and a need to cultivate learner discernment of information quality.

Inquiry Web 2.0 technologies allow for new ways that learners can undertake their personal research. New structures for organising data are created, along with new sources to refer to, new forms of authority, and new tools to interrogate this rich space of information. This can enable students to become empowered as independent learners. But it also brings challenges to both learner and academic colleagues. Web 2.0 knowledge structures are not navigated with the same tools or the same ease as more traditional documentary collections. And students will encounter problems of authority and the ephemeral nature of web ‘knowledge’.

***** Clip of Alistair Warren ****

A quote from Charles Leadbeater about web 2.0 based education provision:

“… [it] require[s] us to see learning as … something that is done peer-to-peer, without a traditional teacher … We are just at the start of exploring how we can be organised without the hierarchy of top-down organisations. There will be many false turns and failures. But there is also huge potential to create new stores of knowledge to the benefit of all, innovate more effectively, strengthen democracy and give more people the opportunity to make the most of their creativity”. The Observer, March 9, 2008

*** image ***

Why should the University be interested in something that it won’t necessarily be formally supporting or receive credit for?

The philosophy of the Student Learning Community is that it enables students to study in new ways preparing them for a different marketplace for graduates and a changing world. The University is supporting the idea of students and the student body, possibly via the Students’ Union, developing this for themselves. Students may want to use it to integrate their study activities with more social aspects of life and this could provide a middle ground.**** Paul – the middle ground clip ****

We are solidly behind what the community could provide for our students.

They become familiar with concepts:

  • of working co-operatively and collaboratively to achieve something,
  • that they can be responsible for developing greater things collectively without an authority setting the framework,
  • that people can work for things without financial incentive **** Clay Shirkey ****
  • that now we aren’t necessarily dependent on or reliant on one particular way of working with a specific set of software, but that we should be developing a more fluid approach, as Martin Weller puts it **** Slidecast ****
  • and that they become familiar with different forms of literacies to express themselves, particularly Digital or Media Literacy.
From the Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning, Teaching and Learning Research Programme:
“Literacies Culture stimulates a form of intelligence that is ‘literate’. Schooling cultivates a distinct orientation towards language, to which interactions with writing are crucial. Digital media stretch this tradition by offering new modes of representation and expression. Even the term ‘literacy’ now has to be stretched to admit other forms of representational fluency than those associated with the printed word. As learners engage with digital artefacts through web 2.0, so the curriculum must address the challenge of developing their confidence with new literacies and their increased potential for creativity.” p9Expressive activity with digital material has become a realistic ambition for users, and the activity has been socialised through the growth of internet outlets that permit sharing, publication or broadcasting.
In which case, shouldn’t these services and software be integrated into the curriculum?Well some of that is happening to some extent in areas across the University. But there is a lag with how quickly the technology can be implemented across an institution. And, quite frankly, universities can’t keep pace with the speed of technology innovation. There are pockets or excellence, examples being the work of Howard Rheingold at Stanford, Michael Wesch at Kansas State, and Stephen Downes in Canada; all of whom are incorporating interesting aspects of web 2.0 directly into the curriculum, in parallel to researching its educational potential and investigating novel learning and teaching processes.

**** Michael Wesch clip – new media in education & portal **** 1:11

As was reported by JISC in March 2008:

“New pedagogical approaches can evolve in isolated pockets within institutions and are not always embedded into wider institutional practice, or shared more widely across the community.” JISC – Student Experiences of Technology and e-Learning, March 2008

So, we are taking about graduates increasingly competing in a global marketplace. Here at Sheffield we are looking to emphasize what sets the Sheffield Graduate apart from other graduates, the skills that this Student Learning Community can provide to students has enormous potential, beyond what could be provided within the undergraduate or taught postgraduate curriculum. There are other aspects, like the Open Science Notebook concept, which are gaining ground across the academic community that could influence research postgraduate practices and act as an extension to their CV online. I did submit a paper into this conference about that, but it wasn’t successful – perhaps a little too radical. But if you  have an interest, please do follow it up and contact me.

If the students are interested in this thing, why haven’t they created a community themselves already?

Well there are examples of individual students investigating, working with and being creative with these types of technology and services; I’ve had the pleasure to work with some.

I’ll let Michael Wesch tell us about the demographics of YouTube from his research.

**** Michael Wesch – demographics clip **** 31sec

You see that the majority of our students fit into the largest portion of this demographic.

Here’s and example from a student studying at Sheffield.

***** Ben Marshall clip ***** 1:47

YouTube or Daily Motion or whatever video hosting site is just one aspect of this concept.

But with regard to setting up a large student community to promote these practices, well the fact is that it is really quite a revolutionary idea so it’s not necessarily something that people would think of doing.

Also students won’t necessarily, without being shown it, see the benefits of what a community that focuses on what technology can provide for them in their studies.

That’s where the project comes in.

  • We can provide a platform and environment to host the community.
  • Then we need to seed the environment to get things started. As with all communities, as you are probably aware, they need a significant initial input to make them successful.
  • We then need to capture students’ imaginations to make them see the benefits and use the service.
**** me – audio – benefits to students – what is the hook ****
If it was going to happen on its own, let’s face it, it would probably have happened already.***** Alistair – sense of community & catalyst ***** 2:31

Couldn’t this be done on existing social networking sites, for example Facebook?

Well, yes it could. There are a number of platforms that such a venture could be hosted on. Indeed, prior to the inception of the Student Learning Community I played around with developing such environments using a mash-up of services. Some of those investigations I presented jointly with Jamie Wood at a workshop on e-Research as part of an international conference held in Manchester. A slidecast of that presentation can be seen online. This was partly responsible for how I originated the idea of the Student Learning Community.

Here’s a clip from that regarding my use of communities for technology and software.

***** Clip from Slidecast *****

As Edward Maloney stated, “social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have shown, among other things, that students will invest time and energy in building relationships around shared interests and knowledge communities”. The Chronicle or Higher Education, 53, 18, p.B26

**** image *****

Joseph talks about how Facebook could now be integrated into other services using mash-up.

**** Joseph – Facebook clip ****

However, a recent survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of JISC, of UK undergraduates found that over half regarded social networking sites as potentially useful in ‘enhancing their learning’. However, only a third thought that their lecturers or tutors should use social networking sites for  and over a quarter said that university staff should definitely not use social networking in their teaching. As the authors concluded, “evidence shows that using these sites in education is more effective when the students set them up themselves; lecturer-led ones can feel overly formal”.14 p21

**** Joseph – Staff not provided *****

So this information influences the shaping of what is provided.

Consequently, the project group that was set up looked at a number of possible platforms. After a lot of thought and investigation it has been decided that the ClearSpace platform that is being rolled out across the University for a number of functions; including learning, teaching and research. This means that we can support the platform more easily. However, the section of ClearSpace that is given over to the Student Learning Community won’t be open to everyone, particularly staff, unless the community want them to be.

Hold on, will there be separate sections for different levels of study?

Well this conference is specifically aimed at the postgraduate student experience. But as you can see the Student Learning Community is not separated into different years or levels of study, and this is intentional. There is an initiative within this University to encourage the use of research practices and higher level study approaches to find their way into the undergraduate curriculum. This community seems the ideal opportunity to encourage direct linkages between postgraduate activities and undergraduates.

Indeed, when I am looking at these web 2.0 tools I’m always considering their educational potential. And when I’m personally using them, it is generally more at the level of how the research student could benefit from their use. In this respect, I’m please to have the opportunity to discuss concepts directly with the research postgraduate here, Jez Cope. Jez is going to explain something of the concept from the research postgraduate angle.

**** Jez’s Spot ****


Nature Network
Picture + a quick description

**** Joseph – sense of community ****

School of Everything
The School of Everything is a social networking service with the motto –  “Everyone has something to learn, everyone has something to teach”. It looks to connect individuals with an interest in learning with individuals who are willing and able to teach. The service is not primarily aimed at for-profit tuition and is intended to stimulate a ‘bottom-up’ supply of teaching.

An evaluation of a closed social network environment at the University of Westminster called CONNECT is due out in early 2009. Even though CONNECT parallels the more general uSpace environment we’ll have here at Sheffield, I’m hoping there may be some information addressing how students are setting up groups for work.

***** Demonstration *****

A Student driven learning community on this scale does seem to be truly novel.
The University of Sheffield really is at the cutting edge with the idea.

The Helpful Blogpost

In the latter part of 2007 I became interested in the potential of Netbooks as they’ve now come to be known, but back then they were called UMPCs or Ultra Mobile PCs. The first of these radical devices, with its solid state flash memory and Linux OS was the Asus EeePC. So when they hit the UK I put in my order. That was November.

In early January I received a phone call saying the supplier now had some in. The demand for these things had suddenly rocketed (particularly in the States), outstripping supply many times over. Predicted world-wide sales for the year were revised upwards to 5m; phenomenal when compared to the 10m predicted sales of the then new Apple iPhone.

I reckoned that Netbooks were convenient and could save me lots of time by working in The Cloud. I’d previously tried other mobile devices for Cloud working but the installed browsers weren’t up to the job, and installing other browsers tended to be flakey.

When the EeePC finally came I was away. The particular flavour of Linux on the EeePC is called Xandros and the startup is quick; just a few seconds. Ideal for lectures or meeting or whatever. On a home wireless network running WPA security, the Eee worked a treat. And then came the Eduroam connection. Da da daaaa. Cue the scary music and the camera running into a brick wall. Oh dear, factory installed Xandros doesn’t support WPA2 security used in Eduroam. The wheels had just come off my new toy (or should that be myNewtoy). If this thing wouldn’t work at the Uni over a security wireless network than its usefulness was suddenly very limited.

So what were the options. Install Windows XP. Well that would slow things down (a lot) and besides all that paging to solid state memory could drastically reduce the lifetime of the device. What about Ubuntu. Maybe. But what would the students do generally; well they wouldn’t install Ubuntu. I needed to stick with Xandros and get it working.

After several evenings of tinkering with the code and several hours of searching the web for pointers, I finally worked out how to set up access to WPA2 security, but nothing on setting Xandros up for use on Eduroam. Eventually after much trial and error, suddenly – Game On. I’d done it.

As these devices are cheap I could see them appealing to students. In fact, I was working in the Information Commons and the evidence was there. I talked to one student who had run into the Eduroam problem. He was tech savvy and had gone the Ubuntu route, but he said he’d have preferred to stick with Xandros.

How to connect an EeePC to Eduroam was something that the HE community in the UK (and Europe) would find useful. So I created a blog and wrote about the EeePC generally, and my experience with connecting to Eduroam, including links off to a forum to download what’s required from Linux repositories and set up for WPA2 connection. I also importantly included the required settings for Eduroam.

I posted this entry in mid-March. And this month, October, I’ve hit the 1000 viewings mark. I think that is pretty good going for something that has a limited lifespan and a niche appear. I say niche appeal because there are many alternatives to the Asus EeePC on the market now, and many with Windows XP preinstalled. But at least I feel I’m helped about 40 people a week or 6 people daily to achieve something they wouldn’t otherwise necessarily achieve. Isn’t the community approach a good one? I think so.

The actual Eduroam information blogpost