Paul Stacey

The Economics of Open

Written for Open Education Week March 5-10, 2012

Open Educational Resources (OER) are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, research articles, videos, and other materials used to support education. OER creators own the intellectual property and copyrights of the OER they create. However, they license the OER and make it freely available to others.

Every time I present the OER work I do at BCcampus I face questions from the audience:

“Why would a creator who holds copyright and intellectual property license it for others to freely access, reuse and modify for their own purpose?”

“Why would a creator give something away for free when it has inherent potential to generate revenue and income?”

“How does a creator earn a living giving away their work for free?”

“Why would an institution that relies on grants and student fees make core assets freely available to others?”

“Given the dire financial times countries, governments, and public education providers find themselves in why would we adopt this practice of open?”

“What is the business model of open?”

To those questions another one was added when David Porter and I were in Ottawa presenting the work of BCcampus broadly including the benefits of Open Educational Resources to Canada’s federal government.

The question we got asked there that stuck out for me is:

“How does open not only save money but act as an economic driver?”

The UNESCO / Commonwealth of Learning project Fostering Governmental Support for Open Educational Resources Internationally led by Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic is hosting a series of regional policy forums on OER for governments between now and the World OER Congress in June 2012. The purpose of these policy forums is to raise governments’ awareness of OER and their support for them, as well as getting input to the Declaration on OER and Open Licensing that will be put to the June OER Congress.

Shortly after returning from Ottawa Cable Green of Creative Commons sent out a request for responses to a question coming out of these policy forums:

“What is the business case for OER?”

I like all these questions.
Open needs to make financial and economic sense.
All of us involved in OER work need to be able to answer these questions directly.
We need to be able to state in simple, straightforward terms the economics of open.

So that got me to thinking that I should tackle these questions.
Someone needs to make a stab at generating answers.
So here goes.

Cable Green’s request for input into what the business case for OER is generated a flurry of responses and recommended readings on international OER list servs. I’ve gathered those readings into a What is the business case for OER? Collection which I’ve pasted at the end of this blog post. In addition my colleague Scott Leslie began assembling evidence of the economic benefits of many different kinds of open including open access research publishing, open source software, open standards, open data, and OER. I spent some time going through all these resources seeking to extract short straightforward statements that answer the question, “What is the business case for OER?” Here’s what I came up with.


  • increase access to education
  • provide students with an opportunity to assess and plan their education choices
  • showcase an institution’s intellectual outputs, promote it’s profile, and attract students
  • convert students exploring options into fee paying enrollments
  • accelerate learning by providing educational resources for just-in-time, direct, informal use by both students and self-directed learners
  • add value to knowledge production
  • reduce faculty preparation time
  • generate cost savings – (this case has been particularly substantiated for open textbooks)
  • enhance quality
  • generate innovation through collaboration

The business case for OER includes both cost savings and revenue generation. Making something open is not always a means of direct revenue generation. It often is indirect – because something is open it leads to a revenue opportunity that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Using OER as a means to market reputation and institutional prowess can convince students to enroll. While better quality learning resources may not directly generate revenue they can lead to faster learning, greater learner success, or reduce drop outs. By their very nature OER can lead to new ways of education through more cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships between institutions. OER make totally new forms of education possible and bring new players into the education market.

I expect many of you may have additional short straightforward statements that answer the question, “What is the business case for OER?”. Welcome your statements as comments to this blog. I expect many more elements of the business case to emerge as the practice of open in education matures.

While the above statements provide a business case for OER they don’t completely answer questions associated with financial rewards to creators who share, or the business models of open, or how open acts as an economic driver. With the business case established lets move on to defining these other economic aspects of open.

The economics of open can be described from multiple perspectives. If I am a creator I describe it one way. If I’m a consumer I describe it another.

In education the way I describe the economics associated with open differs depending on whether I”m describing it from the perspective of a student, an instructor, a college, the education system of a region, or government of a nation.

The economics of open also differ depending on whether you are taking a public or private perspective. Education is both a public service and a for-profit activity around the world. In the public service context there is a very strong business case that publicly funded goods be made freely available to the public that funded them.

In the current OER higher education context “creators” are faculty and/or institutions. When you look at a question like “How does a creator earn a living giving away their work for free?”, in a public sector context the answer is partly that those in the public sector are already earning a living via salary derived from public taxpayer dollars. If they are already being paid by the public shouldn’t the educational work they are being paid to develop, whether it be research or educational resources, be freely available to the public?

After thinking a lot about which persona I should describe the economics of open for and which sector, public or private, I decided to discard these differentiations and focus in on how the economics of open generates benefits that accrue to all players regardless of who you are and regardless of whether it be for public service or for profit. My aspiration is for short direct answers that make sense to everyone.

To derive answers I started looking at things like open source software business models, the sharing economy, and how digitization and the Internet affect supply and demand. There is a lot to explore! I’ve taken it on as my challenge to show how the economics of open, as it plays out in other sectors, applies equally well to education. The language of business and economics is not always used in education. However, for the purpose of generating direct short answers that everyone understands I have chosen to use the language of business and economics in my answers.

Here then are my answers.

Open enables rapid market entry, market penetration, and market share.

We are all creators. Some take photos, some make music, some paint, some write. Most creators are interested in having others experience their work. However default copyright and IP laws tend to constrain access, dissemination and use. Openly licensing work reduces barriers to access and dissemination friction. Going open is a good way to make the market aware that you exist. When something is open it can be disseminated quickly and widely to people everywhere. You may have created a great work but if no one knows about it then its not generating you, or anyone else value.

A central reason for developing and distributing free open source software is that it enables fast entry into the market, rapid market penetration, and generates market share. When Google made the source code for Android open they wanted to make sure that there would always be an open platform available for carriers, OEMs, and developers to use to make their innovative ideas a reality. They also wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no single industry player could restrict or control the innovations of any other. The single most important goal of the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP) is to make sure that the open-source Android software is implemented as widely and compatibly as possible, to everyone’s benefit.

Educational institutions who go open frequently report institutional impact in marketing terms.

Patrick McAndrew at the UK Open University in 2009 reported in his Learning from OpenLearn presentation that the the institutional impact from their OpenLearn initiative included:
– 3 million new “users”
– 232 countries
– 7700 “sign ups”
– 10 funded projects
– 30 collaborations
– established methods
– changed image
– won awards
– new plans

In October 2011 BBC News reported Open University’s record iTunesU downloads had reached 40 million and put the Open University alongside Stanford University for the most downloads.

In 2011 after ten years of open sharing MIT states it shared its OCW materials with an estimated 100 million individuals from over 200 countries worldwide. MIT’s goal for the next decade is to increase their reach to a billion minds.

The UK Open University, MIT, and Stanford all get that going open enables rapid market entry, market penetration, and market share. They’ve established first mover advantage in building up their market presence. For them going open is good business.

As the OER field moves forward I expect we’ll see data that shows increased enrollments where OER exists for courses and shows conversion benefits associated with students being able to try before they buy.

Open generates revenue through advertising, subscriptions, memberships, and donations.

When most people hear about open they find it hard to imagine how making something you own, open and free to others could possibly yield a financial benefit. Obviously you’re not going to generate direct revenue from a free resource. However, you can generate indirect revenue and there are lots of existing business models that already do so which education can emulate.


Google makes a search engine available to all Internet users for free. It makes its revenue from advertising.

Facebook provides a free social network platform that supports personal networks, friendships, and social movements. It makes its revenue from advertising.

Given the market valuations for Google and Facebook it’s clear that the business model of generating revenue from making something you own, open and free to others can generate large financial benefits from advertising. Both Google and Facebook have worked hard to make the advertising tolerable by personalizing and targeting it to match your interests and needs as closely as possible.

Advertising and education tend not to mix. There is a tacit understanding that education should be pure and not unduly influenced by something so crass as advertising. However, given the success of ventures like Google and Facebook I expect this will change. Already sites like Udemy have emerged. Udemy’s goal is to disrupt and democratize the world of education by enabling anyone to teach and learn online. They’ve built a platform that makes it easy for anyone to build an online course using video, PowerPoint, PDFs, audio, zip files and live elements. Students can take courses across a breadth of categories, including: business & entrepreneurship, academics, the arts, health & fitness, language, music, technology, games, and more. Most courses on Udemy are free, but some are paid. Paid courses typically range in price from $5 – $250. Udemy features advertising in their third column (aka Facebook) and takes a percentage of each course fee.

Its important to point out that sites like Google, Facebook and Udemy are not open in the full sense that I established at the beginning of this blog. Open in its fullest sense means education resources that are freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. While Udemy provides “free” access everything on the site is locked down by copyright and can not be reused or modified.


EdTech Frontier is built using WordPress open source software. Anyone can create a blog for free at You get a whole array of free functionality – customizable design themes, ability to write posts, upload and embed photos and videos, stats dashboard, privacy options, complete hosting, … This free functionality is sufficient to get you going and may be all that you need. But for those who want more control you can subscribe to premium features. WordPress generates revenue from advertising so if you don’t want advertising you can remove ads from your blog for a low yearly subscription fee. Think about that for a minute – if its free you accept advertising, if you don’t want advertising you pay a fee. Additional subscriptions get you your own domain, extra storage, custom design, VideoPress, … The business model is very clear – basic for free, premium for a fee.

GoodSemester is an education platform that has adopted the same subscription model. GoodSemester is interesting in that it has been developed by students. They think that education deserves the collaborative power and ubiquity of the Internet, and they don’t understand how schools have gotten on for so long without some amazing tools we take for granted in other fields. GoodSemester is a course platform for students and teachers providing a means for developing and delivering online courses, notes, assignments, questions, discussions, groups and analytics. GoodSemester offers subscription plans for students and professors. While not exactly “free” GoodSemester is interesting for the way it has adopted business models from open source software entities like WordPress and applied them to education.

Memberhsips and Donations

Open initiatives like Wikipedia and Creative Commons are committed to the ideal of free and open with no restriction or influence from prospective advertisers. Accepting donations provides them with the independence they need to achieve their mission. Curriki the online community and wiki platform for teachers, learners, and education experts to share, reuse, and remix free quality K12 curricula uses both donations and memberships as a means of financing its work. Curriki membership is free to educators, but they ask a small annual membership fee from individuals who join Curriki representing for-profit entities. In exchange for a small annual membership fee, you can publish the Curriki logo on your Web site and let the world know you are a corporate member! Donations are welcome from anyone.

Open generates revenue through services.

Proprietary off-the-shelf software is funded through the sale of licenses to end users. Open-source software is given away for no charge. One of the main funding mechanisms for open source software is ancillary support services. Revenue is generated by value added resellers and integrators who specialize in supporting open. Consulting, selection of open source software, installation, configuration, integration, training, maintenance, customizing and tech support are examples of services used to generate revenue from open. The software is free but these fee-based services enable users to optimize use of the product and extract value from it. Its worth pointing out that proprietary off-the-shelf software often requires these support services too, so open source software typically provides a lower cost solution by not charging a license fee for the software itself.

Linux, Apache, Drupal, MySQL, MediaWiki, the list goes on and on of open source software available for free but whose full utilization is best achieved through support services. Red Hat provides services for Linux. O’Reilly Media has built a business around providing books, magazines, research, and training for open source software. Pick your open source software product and inevitably there is a local or global business providing support services for it.

There are a growing number of open source software applications in education. Moodle, Sakai, and recently Pearson entered the fray with OpenClass. As might be expected there are revenue generating business models around each of these.

Moodle has the Moodle Service Network.

Here’s how Pearson promotes it’s product.

OpenClass has no hardware costs, licensing costs, or hosting costs. Why would we do that? Because “free” enables the widespread adoption of new learning approaches that encourage interaction within the classroom and around the world. OpenClass is unbelievably easy to set up. It works with what you’re already using. Get set up with just a few clicks and instantly import content from other learning management systems such as Blackboard, Angel, or Moodle. OpenClass is simple to install, simple to use, and simple to support. We’ve provided a robust KnowledgeBase, up-to-date support forums, and numerous demos and instructional videos to help you get the most out of OpenClass. Of course, we know that self-service isn’t the right solution for everyone — we also provide 24/7 email, phone, and chat support to instructors, students, and administrators. (emphasis added by me)

The OERu is a more fascinating model. As described on its home page:

The OER university is a virtual collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit. The OER university aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognised education institutions. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission to develop a parallel learning universe to augment and add value to traditional delivery systems in post-secondary education. Through the community service mission of participating institutions we will open pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.

In each of these examples open has a fee for services built around it. Eric Raymond, in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar called this “Give Away the Recipe, Open A Restaurant.”

Almost all the early examples of Open Educational Resource initiatives – MIT OpenCourseWare, Connexions, Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative, UK Open University’s Open Learn, and even the new initiatives like MITx are based on a model I think of as “Content for free, Teaching & Credentialing for a fee”. Explicit in all of these OER initiatives is that contact with faculty and the actual credential or degree that is awarded are not part of the offer. Those are services that cost.

The OERu is looking at a business model where some teaching/tutoring services are provided through academic volunteers international see A Framework for Academic Volunteers International: Dec 5-16, 2011. In the absence of teaching services and faculty contact students will turn to each other through initiatives like OpenStudy. I personally see a tremendous opportunity around bolstering education globally through OpenStudy student to student peer mentoring and support.

Teaching and credentialing are two areas of service that are undergoing change in the open market. Institutions like MIT and Stanford have brand value. A credential from those institutions has cachet. Indeed all institutions tend to think of themselves as having a prestigious brand. In the open market brand prestige and its value is undergoing change.

Udacity is co-founded by Sebastian Thrun one of the Stanford University professors who co-taught the massively open Artificial Intelligence course last year that attracted over 160,000 students from more than 190 countries. After teaching this course Thrun left Stanford to found Udacity believing that university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Udacity aims to use the economics of the Internet, to connect some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Currently Udacity has investment funding and is offering its courses for free while it figures out its business model with several possibilities for revenue generation described in the article Massive Courses, Sans Stanford. Thrun is leveraging brand value out of his own name rather than Stanfords.

This idea that students will accept and appreciate a credential not from an institution but from a teacher has been done before in Massively Open Onlne Courses and is now emerging in the form of badges. The MITx initiative has put a new spin on this by devising a credential not exactly from MIT but associated with MIT. The extent to which these badges, letters and certificates of completion from an instructor or non-traditional institution have credibility and value in the market will be fascinating to see.

Open generates revenue through direct and indirect sales

In the economics of open there still are direct and indirect sales. Participants who receive free and open educational resources may still pay for teaching, assessment, and credentialing. The open textbooks being generated in the Washington States Open Course Library initiative aren’t completely free merely targeted to be less than $30 compared to $100-200. Open textbooks are often free in a .epub or .pdf format but cost for a physical print version. I think of this as “Digital for free, physical for a fee”. FlatWorld Knowledge, CK12 and others have all created an open business model around this new way of generating textbooks. The traditional print industry is scrambling to adapt. The economics of open still generates revenues but equally importantly generates cost savings. Take a look at the OpenStax Student Savings Calculator to see how big an impact this can have.

It has been fascinating to see Reuven Carlyle and Cable Green work together to establish the business case for open textbooks and create government policy that leverages the economics of open for Washington State. (Reuven Carlyle makes the business case here. Cable Green makes the business case here.) When you amplify cost savings at a state or national level the economics of open impact is huge.

Another variation on the digital for free, physical for a fee model, is software for free, hardware for a fee. In the rapid market entry section of this post I described why Google made the source code for Android open. Google’s end game was to generate revenue through direct sales, not of software but of hardware in the form of the Android phone itself. Lets see how well this tactic worked. As of February 2012 there were more than 400,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from the Android Market as of December 2011 exceeded 10 billion. Android is one of the best-selling smartphone platform worldwide with over 300 million Android devices in use by February 2012. According to Google’s Andy Rubin, as of February 2012 there are over 850,000 Android devices activated every day. I’d say this strategy works pretty well. Eric Raymond, in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar called this “widget frosting.” To date we’ve not seen hardware specifically designed and developed for the education market. But I see it coming and I bet it follows a similar model.

Another way of generating direct and indirect revenue from open is to build product add-on extensions and accessories. In the case of add-on extensions the base product is open and free, but additional more full-featured functionality costs money. Lots of apps work this way. You can download a basic app from Apple or Google but an “upgrade” is available for a fee that provides a more robust and full-featured version of that app. Product extensions can be modules, plug-ins or add-ons to an open source package. Indirect revenue can be achieved through accessories which provide users with an opportunity to customize something open in a way uniquely personal to them. The accessories market is huge. Ringtones, laptop covers, apparel, mugs, cards, the variety and range of accessories is endless.

It’s worth pointing out that in music, book, and photography markets some creators give their work away for free and simultaneously offer it for sale. Nine Inch Nails have a brand new 36 track instrumental collection called Ghosts I – IV. You can download the first 9 tracks for free. You can get all 36 track in a variety of digital formats for $5. You can get the tracks on two audio CDs for $10. You can get a a deluxe edition package which includes a blu-ray disc with the songs in high definition stereo and accompanying slideshow. You can get a $300 ultra-deluxe limited edition package (already sold out).

Giving away songs for free can generate more sales.

Cory Doctorow is an author who lets you download his books for free or buy them. He provides a great explanation on why he does this.

Open Generates Innovation

What makes open different is not so much what it derives economic returns from, but “how” it does so.

Open disaggregates supply chains into constituent parts and makes one or more of those parts open and free.

Here’s the OERu logic model:

Although it wasn’t designed for this you can see education supply chain parts revealed – textbooks, journals, curriculum, design & development, pedagogy, student support, ICT infrastructure, assessment, credentialing, … The OERu is looking at how open makes one or more of those parts free or substantially lower in cost.

Open diversifies and democratizes both the production and use of goods and services.

The innovation around open is not based on hoarding knowledge or building monopolies and locked-in proprietary models but instead on freeing knowledge, building collaborations, and finding flexible shared ways of generating economic benefits.

If I give you something and you give me back a new and improved version of that thing, we have engaged in mutual exchange. There has been no financial transaction but we both have mutually benefited. If we have a shared educational need, lets say we have common curricula across a range of courses. Using the economics of open we can divvy up the effort associated with creating that curricula and openly license the curricula for mutual use.

One of the ways the economics of open drives the economy is through reciprocity – by granting you rights I too gain.

Innovation is an economic driver. While the business case for open can be made within traditional frameworks its greatest impact is felt through new business models. When representatives in Canada’s federal government ask me how open acts as an economic driver I’m tempted to ask in reply, “How important the digital economy is to Canada?”

While the business model of open can work with physical goods, its effect as an economic driver is compounded when digital goods are involved. The economics of physical goods is predicated on supply and demand. If I have a physical good and I give it to you, I no longer have it. However, if I have a digital good and I give it to you, I still have it. This fundamentally changes the economics of supply and demand.

In a traditional economy based on supply and demand, scarcity generates premium prices. Supply emphasizes mass produced solutions that are just good enough to attract a large segment of users without being optimized for anyone. The power of the marketplace lies more with suppliers than customers. In contrast, the open marketplace, especially the digital open marketplace, massively diversifies and expands supply. In the open marketplace we all become suppliers and power shifts toward customers.

The open market reduces supplier lock-in and offers lower costs, more choice, and personalization options.

In the open marketplace you can choose what best meets your needs, customize the solution to a much greater extent, and flexibly integrate pieces into more complete solutions.

One of the greatest innovations in the open economy is the formation of communities of developers and users who collectively work on and continually enhance creative work for mutual benefit. So when I see Washington state developing an open course library of their top 81 high enrollment courses and a series of <$30 open textbooks I think about how this could scale by working with other states and regions. I think about the formation of an open consortia of others who collectively use the same courses and improve them together. I think about coordinating and building out through collectively planning and distributed effort.

Almost all successful open initiatives have a vibrant and active community built up around them. An intriguing innovative aspect of this is that frequently the community that forms around open is global not regional.

Leveraging open as an economic driver involves developing and delivering open products and services in partnership with others around the world.

Open leads to collaborations and trading partners within a global context.

Open Makes Better Use of What We Already Have

As I’ve thought about and worked through the economics of open in this blog post its occurred to me that the biggest opportunity open brings to all of us is making better use of what we already have. We are all creators. What if we adopted a default of sharing instead of not sharing?

On January 24-26, 2012, one hundred thought leaders from all over the world were invited to come together in Austin to mark the tenth anniversary of the NMC Horizon Project. They engaged in discussions around ideas of where technology is going and how it is impacting learning and education worldwide. From those discussions megatrends emerged. A number of those trends directly relate to the economics of open including:

  • Openness — concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information — is moving from a trend to a value for much of the world.
  • The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.
  • The Internet is becoming a global mobile network — and already is at its edges.
  • Legal notions of ownership and privacy lag behind the practices common in society.
  • Business models across the education ecosystem are changing.

At BCcampus, where I work, we’re committed to being open in everything we do. We decided to proactively state that position and openly share the work we produce through a corporate statement on our “open agenda”. It starts out saying:

We are a publicly-funded organization serving British Columbia’s post-secondary sector. The goal of higher education is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge, and as such we have an essential responsibility to distribute the results of our work as widely as possible.

Our open agenda corporate statement goes on to describe our commitment to publishing all BCcampus reports, web content, and other media resources using Creative Commons licenses. We describe how our events will be open and use open communication practices. At BCcampus open is a default practice. We belief there is collective value in proactively publishing organizational statements regarding committment to open. We hope more organizations follow suit and welcome others to adopt or use ours as a starting point.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s masterplan for the ‘sharing economy’ the CEO of Facebook believes he is not changing human nature but enabling it. Zuck’s Law decrees that every year, we will share twice as much as we shared the year before, because we want to and because we now can.

I’m fascinated by the emergence of the sharing economy. As Fast Company notes in their article on The Sharing Economy:

Spawned by a confluence of the economic crisis, environmental concerns, and the maturation of the social web, an entirely new generation of businesses is popping up. They enable the sharing of cars, clothes, couches, apartments, tools, meals, and even skills. The basic characteristic of these you-name-it sharing marketplaces is that they extract value out of the stuff we already have. The central conceit of collaborative consumption is simple: Access to goods and skills is more important than ownership of them. Botsman divides this world into three neat buckets: first, product-service systems that facilitate the sharing or renting of a product (i.e., car sharing); second, redistribution markets, which enable the re-ownership of a product (i.e., Craigslist); and third, collaborative lifestyles in which assets and skills can be shared (i.e., coworking spaces). The benefits are hard to argue — lower costs, less waste, and the creation of global communities with neighborly values.

Making better use of what we already have generates economic benefit by increasing utilization.

Given the worldwide demand for education shouldn’t we be doing a better job of using what we already have? Don’t the principles we see at play in the sharing economy apply equally well to education? If we really want to address the world wide shortage of education an obvious first step is to open up the education resources that already exist within education institutions around the world.

The economics of open drives the economy through better utilization of what we already have.

Economic development is driven by skilled labour. Better use of existing educational resources increases access and skill development. The economics are simple.

The economics of open allows us to increase the skills and knowledge of all.

Too many of our educational resources sit on a shelf unused or behind password protected systems. Open makes better use of what we already have.

Open works don’t end, they expand and evolve on and on through others.

This post is for everyone who has been grappling with the business case for open.
My hope is that you’ve had a few aha moments and that some of your questions have been answered.
I expect many of you have additional insights and examples of the economics of open.
I invite you to share your insights and examples by leaving comments at the bottom of this post.
The more we can collectively expand and evolve a global understanding of the economics of open the better for all.

Paul Stacey March 4, 2012


References for What is the business case for OER? Collection (from OER list serv Feb 2012)

Case Study – January 2012 – Also published in other places in 2011
Catherine Anne Schmidt-Jones
An Open Educational Resource Supports a Diversity of Inquiry-Based Learning
For teachers and students as well as self-directed learners, one function of OERs is as a resource for just-in-time, inquiry-based learning. the present case supports the conclusion that direct, informal use by both students and self-directed learners is the main use of OERs. Education researchers, policy-makers, and OER developers may want to consider the best ways to understand and support this type of use and take steps to make it truly available to all learners.

Case Study March 2011
Santally Mohammed Issack
OERs in Context – Case Study of Innovation and Sustainability of Educational Practices at the University of Mauritius
Conclusion: the inclusion of OERs helped maintain a good quality level, sustain a viable economic model with reduction of tuition fees for learners, increase access and achieve the intended learning outcomes without any negative impact on the learners’ experience.

Nottingham University February 2011
Title: “It turns out that students do use OER and it does save time”
This was a very limited study of 51 students and several faculty using a single repurposed resource.

Case Studies approximately 2009
Ms Rebecca Ngalande, Kamuzu College of Nursing, University of Malawi, Malawi
1) The Use of Open Education Resources at the University of Malawi (UNIMA) — Kamuzu College of Nursing
2) OER Basic Competencies in Midwifery, University of Malawi
The major findings of the pilot project were that OER are significant in higher education as they benefit both Faculty and students in many ways like faculty preparation time is reduced, produced materials are of high quality and faculty learn and share from others. It shed new knowledge on methods for accessing academic information, creation and production of such materials; teaching and learning; publishing as well as sharing. Faculty felt they can become more confident when they know that their work is of high quality.

The Policies for OER Uptake did substantial literature search (LUOERL) of the learner experience of OER last summer for the UK Higher Education Academy as part of the overall JISC/HEA OER Programme in the UK. This work will be updated again in early 2013 for the EU project POERUP.

Over 250 papers were analysed for the LUOERL study. The report is linked from
You can also directly check their online bibliographies (on Mendeley) – see in particular

The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks (2005)
Two early papers that compare the cost of developing open textbooks with that of commercial textbooks.

Economics of Open Content
Audio from Fred Beshears lecture for PBS and NPR forum at WGBH on January 2006.

A Sustainable Business Model for Open Electronic Textbooks (April 13, 2007)
The slides from Fred Beshears presentation to a US House subcommittee looking into the price of textbooks.

The Case for Openness, an African Perspective

A short briefing paper for a meeting of the Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA) late last year when they held a meeting to develop scenarios for the future of African universities.

Dramatically Bringing Down the Cost of Education with OER – How Open Education Resources Unlock the Door to Free Learning by David Wiley, Cable Green, Louis Soares February 7, 2012

A range of OER Knowledge Cloud Resources.

Blackout Protests Over Internet Censorship
January 19, 2012, 1:12 pm
Filed under: copyright, Digital Economy | Tags: , , ,

Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic blackout protest page January 18, 2012.

The Internet is a major source of innovation for both the economy and society. It enables entirely new forms of business, communication, and knowledge and plays a central role in changing repressive societies, creating global awareness, and forging relationships. The Internet provides us with a set of online freedoms.

It’s fascinating (and in many cases disturbing) to see governments attempt to modernize legislation from pre-Internet days and in some cases introduce new legislation seeking to leverage the Internet or control it. Yesterday, January 18, 2012 many of you may have experienced “blackout protests” when thousands of websites went dark in protest against two draft anti-piracy and counterfeiting bills in the US Congress.

Wikipedia’s web site featured this:

And today they posted the following thank you:

I thought I’d try and make sense of these protests. What are these bills all about? Why are legislators bringing them forward? Why are people protesting? How does it affect Canada? Is there similar legislation being brought forward in Canada? How does it affect me?

At this juncture in the evolution of the Internet rather than embracing the innovations the Internet is bringing many legislators seem intent on curbing it.

In the US two draft anti-piracy and counterfeiting bills are currently being reviewed in the US Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). SOPA is intended to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. PIPA is intended to give the US government and copyright holders tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. These bills are in response to the perceived problem that piracy is having a large negative impact on US content industries.

It’s interesting to compare the list of those supporting SOPA with those opposing SOPA. Supporters of SOPA represent the movie, music and publishing industries while those opposed are primarily from the technology, public interest, and human rights groups. These lists themselves are interesting as they establish a kind of public transparency and accountability for what is happening.

There are several major problems legislators face in creating legislation of this kind including:

SOPA and PIPA are not the only contentious bills. There is also the Research Works Act. In the US the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a policy that ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH publicly funded research. The Research Works Act seeks to prevent NIH and any federal agency from adopting such open access policies. See Anti-Open Access Rises Again and Academic publishers have become the enemies of science.

While all the bills I’ve mentioned so far are US, Canada is not immune to similar activities. Our federal government has been pressured by the US to take stronger stands on enforcing copyright and IP similar to those being taken in the US. In response Canada’s government has taken steps to comply through efforts to update copyright legislation, signing of ACTA, and its willingness to join in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Michael Geist and others have written widely on these developments. See:
C-32 Posts
2011 in Review: Developments in ACTA
Canada Signs ACTA: What Comes Next
TPP Copyright Extension Would Keep Some of Canada’s Top Authors Out of Public Domain For Decades
Help Preserve the Canadian Public Domain: Speak Out on the Trans Pacific Partnership Negotiations

I find it disturbing that with all these legislative bills the economic benefits of a few are superceding the public benefits of many. These bills seek to control and limit freedom as is so eloquently expressed in my colleague Scott Leslie’s Short Poem About SOPA.

But for me its not just about control and freedom its about optimizing the use of technology. Much of what I see happening is seeking to break or disable technology in order to enforce old business models. I’m dismayed when I see technologies hobbled for economic gain. See Publishers vs. Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War for example. When David Wong says in his brilliantly funny 5 Reasons The Future Will Be Ruled By B.S. that “The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free.” I’m really hoping he’s wrong. In the digital world the incremental cost of distributing digital goods is next to zero. Creating business models based on artificial scarcity is sheer folly and fails to leverage the innovation that technology and the Internet bring.

If we truly are interested in improving our economies and societies we’d be well served to focus on how we incentivize the production and use of creative works not curtail them. We’d be better off looking at how we maximize access and use not limit it.


Rather than predictions for a coming year I like to create inspirations. At the start of 2011 I imagined a new kind of university, a University of Open, that served as an inspiration for me throughout the year.

Thought I’d start 2012 off in a similar fashion and imagine another new kind of university, a university defined by the public and students – a PublicU2.

In Canada most universities and colleges are “public institutions”. But are they really very public? Certainly they receive significant public funding in the form of government grants. However, are they open and transparent? Do they seek public input? Are they under any kind of public control?

I’ve been reading the book Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis and its provided a helpful frame of reference for reimagining a public university.

Public Parts explores how sharing in the digital age improves the way we work and live. Jarvis talks about how companies are becoming increasingly public.

“The truly public company will operate in the open because publicness affords businesses a new way to work, to collaborate with customers, to reset relationships, to build trust, and to find new efficiencies – producing better products, making fewer mistakes, spending less on marketing, building better brands together. Today the more a company opens its process to customers, the more the people formerly known as consumers can move up the design, sales, and service chains to say what they want in a product before it is made.”

In our digital age shouldn’t public universities become more truly public by opening up and providing students with a say in what they want as education before it is made?

I know from working with faculty and staff of institutions that they always say they are doing what they do for students. I have a strong empathy with that position – doing what we do for students is education’s moral high ground. But are institutions really the agents of student will? Hasn’t this turned out to mean that they see themselves as being in a better position to make decisions about education than students are? Have our public institutions been vested with power and authority to think and act on student’s behalf without public input? Has institutional autonomy and the constant competition for student enrollments resulted in institutions that act in their own self interest rather than the public interest?

I’ve started imagining what a university would be like if it pursued a more public engagement process centered around the student. What if a university sought student input into not only what education to provide but how to provide it. What would a PublicU2 look like?

Some of you may be saying this is sheer folly. It’s like asking people who know nothing about cars for their input on what kind of car they would like. But even if you know nothing about how cars work your input on what kind of car you’d like could be still substantial. Currently all you can do is pick from manufacturer pre-defined options – luxury or budget? sporty or family sedan? standard or automatic? … What if you could tell a car manufacturer what you want in a car and see that input used in design and production. Welcome to

Local Motors uses a co-creation model for collaborative car design. For Local Motors first car (an off-road muscle car) the public submitted over 40,000 designs. The winning designer received $20,000 in prize money and worked with company staff and the community to bring the car to reality. Local Motor designs are openly licensed for sharing using Creative Commons. Local Motors publishes complete and detailed specifications and invites community members to design component parts.

Imagine PublicU2 being truly open and public in a similar way. Lets say a degree to support the high technology sector is needed. Why not open up the design process and invite students and the public to submit designs for the degree? You don’t have to hand over the entire decision making process to voting or popularity you just have to give weight to the input of the community of students and the public and defer to their judgement whenever possible. And what if you launched that degree as beta? What if you committed to continuously improve that degree based on enrolled and prospective student input? What if graduates were invited to continue to enhance the design of that degree and the actual courses themselves even after graduation and could subscribe to subsequent releases of improved courses as an alumni benefit?

Still not sure. Here’s some more examples. Vancouver is home to the awesome shoe store Fluevog. One of the most visited pages of their web site is Open Source Footwear. Here you can submit your own design for a shoe you wish Fluevog made. If your design is selected Fluevog covers all the costs & development process (it takes about a year to produce a shoe) and puts your shoe onto the market. The shoe is named after you and you get a free pair.

Or how about MESH01 a co-creation platform that links designers and brands worldwide. Together, you create and launch innovative products for the SportStyle industry.

Or how about Thingiverse a place to share digital designs that can be made into real, physical objects.

Got a great product idea for Safeway, Toys R Us, Ace Hardware? Why not submit it through Quirky? Check out the Space Bar Desk Organizer!

Initiatives like these don’t see customers as just customers but as co-creators. When will institutions see students and the public as not just customers but co-creators?

All to often programs and courses are developed by institutions in a hopeful “build it and they will come” mentality. Institutions interested in a PublicU2 kind of approach might want to consider something like Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

Why not a Kickstarter approach to PublicU2 programs, courses and services? Rather than pledging dollars, a PublicU2 could post programs and courses under consideration for development and invite students and the public to express interest in enrollment. When sufficient numbers indicate interest development proceeds and the program/course is offered.

Co-creation doesn’t have to be constrained to just design activities for products. ChallengePost lets individuals and organizations challenge the public to solve problems and innovate. ChallengePost has featured challenges related to Health, Education, Science & Technology, Energy & Environment, the Economy, and Public Safety.

Maybe you’re interested in the following challenges? The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is challenging biomedical engineering student teams to design innovative solutions to unmet health and clinical problems. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) is sponsoring a College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge which challenges high school and college students to help get information to their peers about how much it costs to go to college.

When will institutions adopt similar practices to solve their problems and innovate?

Ross Paul’s fabulous book Leadership Under Fire describes PublicU1 leaders. Using case studies of 11 Canadian past or present university presidents as well as his own experience Paul provides a masterful analysis of the attributes of the current public university leader and the major issues they face. Like Ross I imagine new leaders of PublicU2’s who mobilize their campuses to fully use new technologies, adopt more open systems, and embrace the cultural changes of a digital society. Who will be the leaders of PublicU2’s?

Imagine a PublicU2 leader that publicly committed to sharing its data, posting in real time data on capacity, applicants, enrollments, graduates and other key analytics. Imagine a PublicU2 leader willing to publicly describe challenges and invite others to use its data, along with data from other PublicU2 institutions, to solve those challenges whether they be around access, affordability, quality, or service.

What if government based its allocation of public funds to institutions not on student enrollments but on the extent to which an institution is public? What if public funding was based on the extent to which institutions have public engagement, collaborate and generate public goods.

I imagine a PublicU2 where students and the public are given a central design role. When Ontario announced plans to create an Ontario Online Institute by far the best submission to the government on what that Institute should be came from students – The Ontario Online Institute: Students’ Vision for Opening Ontario’s Classrooms. Student PIRG reports such as How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability are further examples of students influencing institutions. Imagine a PublicU2 that treats student and public input not as tokenism but as central to their mission demonstrating respect, trust and a willingness to transform.

At PublicU2 students are their own learning designers. PublicU2 uses what we know about learning discarding transmission models of pedagogy and replacing them with social ones. At PublicU2 students play the role of teacher to other students, as it has been shown that the best way to learn is to teach. At PublicU2 teaching and learning are publicly visible and transparent emphasizing the formation of social networks within and beyond the institution. The emphasis is less on the content and more on the activities and the human interactions that take place around the content. PublicU2 emphasizes formation of virtual study groups, use of wikis to support discussions between current and past students, and engagement of the public in supporting PublicU2 teaching and learning.

At PublicU2 learning generates public knowledge. I’ve long been a fan of Jon Beasely-Murray’s University of British Columbia’s class SPAN312 (“Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation”) and the way they collectively contribute to improving Wikipedia’s Latin American literature articles. Here is a wonderful example of public learning generating public knowledge.

So PublicU2’s are my inspiration for 2012. I’m looking for public universities where all learning is a public process resulting in public knowledge benefiting everyone. I’m looking for public universities who collaborate in the open and engage the public in identifying and solving problems.

I’m looking for PublicU2’s.

Got an example? Let me know.

Inspire me.

2011 The Year of Open

The “open” space is expanding.
2011 has been a watershed year with open gaining traction and acceptance.

photo by Paul Stacey

Governments in Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US have all adopted Creative Commons licenses to communicate broad reuse rights to the content, data, and educational materials they create. By doing so these national governments are seeking to:

  • promote creative and innovative activities, which will deliver social and economic benefits
  • make government more transparent and open in its activities, ensuring that the public are better informed about the work of the government and the public sector
  • enable more civic and democratic engagement through social enterprise and voluntary and community activities

This move to more open government is not just happening at the national level. Here in British Columbia the provincial government has established a Ministry of Labour, Citizen’s Services and Open Government and became the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data portal.

Its even happening at the city or municipal level. The city of Sao Paulo in Brazil has decreed that all educational resources paid for by the city need to be Open Educational Resources (OER) licensed using Creative Commons license.

Its not just happening at the national, provincial, and municipal levels its happening at the organizational and institutional levels. The National Autonomous University of Mexico, better known as UNAM, has said it will make virtually all of its publications, databases, and course materials freely available on the Internet over the next few years. This is to include all magazines and periodicals published by UNAM, research published by UNAM employees, and online access to theses, dissertations and its approximately 300 undergraduate and graduate courses. The UNAM Online initiative seeks to achieve open access, public and free to all products, collections and digital developments of the university. This move is seen as part of the university’s mission. A way to give back to society what it is doing with its financial support. A way of being open, accountable and transparent.

Its not just publications, research, theses and other content that is going open, 2011 was the year that open pedagogies including Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) were adopted by mainstream big name institutions. A Massively Open Online Course is typically taught by faculty at an established institution to tuition paying regular students but is also open to enrollment by anyone interested for free. Only the tuition paying students receive accreditation. MOOC’s have been around for a while (see here and here) but this year saw the following fascinating examples:

Digital Storytelling DS106 – Jim Groom’s University of Mary Washington DS106 is an open, online course free to anyone who wants to take it. You can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. Participants develop skills in using technology as a tool for creative self-expression, building a digital identity, and critically examining the landscape of communication technologies. The 2011 version of this course invented a free form live streaming course radio station as a new form of teaching and learning. This course starts up again in January 2012 in case you’d like to sign up.

In the fall of 2011 Stanford Engineering professors offered three of the school’s most popular computer science courses for free online as MOOC’s, Machine Learning, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, and Introduction to Databases. The Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course generated over 100,000 enrollments and had to be capped. Students taking the course for free watch video lecture recordings, read course materials, complete assignments and take quizzes and an exam. What online students don’t receive, however, is one-on-one interaction with professors, the full content of lectures – or a Stanford degree.

In late December MIT announced MITx which aims to let thousands of online learners take laboratory-intensive courses, while assessing their ability to work through complex problems, complete projects, and write assignments (see FAQ). As with other MOOC style offerings students won’t have interaction with faculty or earn credit toward an MIT degree. However, for a small fee (yet to be defined) students can take an assessment which if successfully completed will provide them with a certificate from MITx. Whether this turns out to be anything more than the form letters Stanford’s faculty provide non-enrolled students who complete the course remains to be seen. But, imagine this scenario. A student signs up for a free MITx course, completes the assignments, pays the assessment fee and receives a certificate indicating successful completion. That student then decides to apply to and enroll in MIT proper. Would that certificate be accepted by MIT as transfer credit or would they force the student to retake the entire course?

Museums and libraries are going open. Check out the Commons on Flickr to see how libraries and museums are openly sharing what have been hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and how they are openly sourcing public input and knowledge into making these collections even richer. The Commons on Flickr openly shares photos where “no known copyright restrictions” exist, such as:

  • The copyright is in the public domain because it has expired;
  • The copyright was injected into the public domain for other reasons, such as failure to adhere to required formalities or conditions;
  • The institution owns the copyright but is not interested in exercising control; or
  • The institution has legal rights sufficient to authorize others to use the work without restrictions.

I think of these collections as partially open. The rights statements of participating libraries and museums are full of statements like; “It is your responsibility to determine what permission(s) you need in order to use the Content and, if necessary, to obtain such permission.” Not particularly helpful or encouraging of reuse. No where near as clear as Creative Commons licenses. However, I do really like the way they are seeking public input into the cataloging and data associated with these images. See No. 47. Crew member taking a movie of ice berg from the ship, Greenland, 1939 for an example of how Smithsonian images are being shared through the Commons on Flickr and how public input is improving the collection. It’s particularly heartening to see the Smithsonian directly interacting with end users.

Photo from Smithsonian Institution’s Photostream

In November 2011 Wired announced that all staff-produced photos will be released under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC) license in high-res format on a newly launched public Flickr stream. In making the announcement Wired notes; “Like many other sites across the web, we’ve benefited from CC-licensed photos at for years — thank you, sharers! It seems only fitting, and long overdue, to start sharing ourselves.”

Its great to see these examples of open leadership happening at the national, provincial, municipal, institutional, and organizational level and it makes me wonder – Is open going viral? Is open going mainstream?

There is growing government interest in seeing resources produced through tax dollars be publicly accessible. Governments at all levels are using policy and legal frameworks to open up access to publicly held information, promote transparency, and enable wider economic and social gain. These are all factors every government and their electorate are interested in.

I can’t wait for the day when more and more government officials recognize the benefits of open and establish themselves as proponents. Washington State representative Reuven Carlyle gets it in spades. See $64 million for out-of-date and educationally generic textbooks? Here’s a new approach, and Beginning of the end for $100 college textbooks: Legislature, colleges, Gates Foundation partner for examples of how a politician can make a difference by understanding and leveraging open.

I think of open textbooks as low hanging fruit. One of the most compelling open education initiatives to undertake. Open textbooks have a clear value proposition for students, parents, educators and public funders. CK-12’s flexbooks are totally impressive for the fact that they are Creative Commons licensed and for the simple way you can assemble a book as a .pdf, an e-book, or html and embed it in an LMS. And then there is Saylor’s Open Textbook Challenge which is offering a “bounty” of $20,000 if you submit your textbook to them and it is accepted for use in their course materials. I expect we’ll see open textbooks for high enrollment undergrad courses across the board.

While I’m interested in the full range of ways in which open principles are being used I’m particularly interested in how they apply to education. Governments could establish policy that requires public funds for education to result in education resources openly accessible to the public. Some governments have provided funding for development of educational resources under agreements that have the IP and copyright for those resources resting with the government. Governments could easily convert all these legacy educational resources to Open Educational Resources (OER) by simply using an open license like Creative Commons.

UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) published the UNESCO-COL Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Higher Education this year providing a set of guidelines to support governments, teaching staff, higher education institutions/providers, and quality assurance/accreditation and recognition bodies adopt and support OER.

The guidelines for government include:
a. Support the use of OER through the revision of policy regulating higher education
b. Contribute to raising awareness of key OER issues
c. Review national ICT/connectivity strategies for Higher Education
d. Consider adapting open licensing frameworks
e. Consider adopting open format standards
f. Support institutional investments in curriculum design
g. Support the sustainable production and sharing of learning materials
h. Collaborate to find effective ways to harness OER.

I look forward to seeing these policies adopted around the world, used at the national, provincial, municipal, and institutional level, and applied across all of education.

For public government, public service agencies, and not-for-profits open policy is a perfect fit. For the most compelling and articulate description of its obviousness I highly recommend you listen to Cable Green’s Sloan-C presentation The Obviousness of Open Policy which he gave in November 2011 (advance to time index 10:25 and click on the 4 arrows in the upper right corner to go full screen). In a digital world the potential is there for open to become a widespread win/win de facto policy with benefits for governments and citizens. The most amazing thing of all is that government support for open can happen at the policy and guidelines level without any additional funding. It’s hard to imagine why any entity serving the public interest wouldn’t adopt open policies when open can clearly generate social and economic benefits.

I’m highlighting these government developments around policy and open as I see them as an essential complement to the grass roots way open adoption has happened to date. Individuals, on their own, have embraced open. Photographers have uploaded over 200 million images to Flickr tagged with Creative Commons licenses. Wikipedia’s more than 3.8 million entries are openly licensed using Creative Commons. In June 2011 YouTube added the Creative Commons Attribution license as a licensing option for users and launched a Creative Commons video library containing 10,000 videos under CC BY from organizations such as C-SPAN,, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. There are now hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos that users have posted with Creative Commons licenses.

People who tweet and use social networks appreciate openly engaging others in solving problems or providing advice. The New Einsteins Will Be Scientists Who Share explores this potential for science. Even Scientific American is in on the act with their citizen science site. I expect we’ll soon see national organizations responsible for research establish open innovation as an essential aspect of research agendas.

As might be expected there are a growing number of practices and technologies emerging to support this kind of open engagement. Knowledge in the Public Interest is using the concept of a JAM‘s for open engagement. A JAM is a a non-linear moderated discussion of fixed duration that is part creative brainstorming, part active dialogue, and part focus group. In a JAM participants share experiences, knowledge, and ideas, and collaborate in search of actionable responses to complex issues. It’s interesting to note that Knowledge in the Public Interest’s customized version of Moodle and its JAM process are similar to what BCcampus has been doing for years with its customized Moodle SCoPE seminars.

Idea Scale is another interesting example. The recently launched US initiative Digital Promise is using Idea Scale to generate and tackle “grand challenges” to spur breakthrough technologies that can help transform the way teachers teach and students learn. You can see grand challenge ideas submitted so far in Idea Scale here.

In education, Learning Management Systems are largely closed walled off online learning environments that require passwords and logins for entry. It was a welcome surprise then when in October 2011 Blackboard announced a series of new initiatives to provide greater support for open education efforts. Working with Creative Commons, Blackboard now supports publishing of open educational resources (OER) across its platforms. Support for OER enables instructors to publish and share their courses under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) so that anyone can easily preview and download the course content. Blackboard also updated its policy around fees so that there are no extra charges associated with sharing courses with outsiders such as other educators, auditors, or prospective students. Blackboard says it wants to help institutions share the content of their courses with larger, online audiences. When a technology vendor like Blackboard starts to support open then you know open is past the idea stage and going mainstream.

Given the growing personal use of open licenses by end users it makes sense for governments to do the same. Open will flourish when bottom-up grassroots efforts toward open take place in an environment supported top-down by policy.

photo by Deborah Stacey

My own work at BCcampus around OER has been an example of that synergy. Government Ministry of Advanced Education support for faculty development of online learning resources has been provided with the caveat that the resources be open and shareable. I’ve written about this initiative extensively elsewhere in this blog (see here, and here, and here) so thought I’d shine the light on a couple of other 2011 developments that add credence to the growing sense of open going viral and the synergy between policy and grassroots adoption.

In the US the Obama administration initiated the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program out of the US Department of Labor. The first round of TAACCCT grants made available and awarded in 2011 totals $500 million but a total of $2 billion over four years has been committed. This example of government commitment to open is the largest I know of and I hope others are inspired to follow suit. TAACCCT provides eligible institutions of higher education with funds to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs that can be completed in 2 years or less, and that result in skills, degrees, and credentials that prepare program participants for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations, and are suited for workers who are eligible for training under the TAA for Workers program. TAACCCT funds are capacity building grants strategically targeted to assist workers adversely affected by trade agreements. All TAACCCT initiatives are expected to meet accessibility and interoperability standards and produce OER licensed using Creative Commons (CC-BY).

Wayne Mackintosh and the Open Educational Resource Foundation (OERF) in New Zealand have been doing just an amazing job of bringing to life the OER university (OERu). Here’s how the OERu is described:

The OER university is a virtual collaboration of like-minded institutions committed to creating flexible pathways for OER learners to gain formal academic credit.

The OER university aims to provide free learning to all students worldwide using OER learning materials with pathways to gain credible qualifications from recognised education institutions. It is rooted in the community service and outreach mission to develop a parallel learning universe to augment and add value to traditional delivery systems in post-secondary education. Through the community service mission of participating institutions we will open pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.

The concept of an OERu gained widespread support and made incredible progress over the 2011 year. Institutions from around the world have become OERu founding partners including:

These founding partners represent Canada, USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and India. For OERu to have attracted the interest and involvement of this many partners in a one year period is impressive. I’m particularly encouraged with the breadth, depth and reputations of these partners. It’s worth pointing out that the OERu openly invites other institutions to join. I expect many additional institutions from all around the world will join the OERu and follow the early leadership these founding anchor partners have shown.

Over the course of 2011 the OERu:

Perhaps the most impressive thing of all with OERu is that all of this has been planned and published openly on Wikieducator with invited and included participation from people all over the world. Got ideas you’d like to contribute to the OERu? Log on to the wiki and add them – input from all is welcome. OERu is not only about opening education its modelling how to do planning and development in an open and inclusive way. For the OERu, open is not just about content – its about all aspects of education, it seeks to engage and benefit all people everywhere, it’s a way of working. Outstanding!

photo by Deborah Stacey

Against this backdrop of growing global momentum and critical mass around open, 2011 has been a pivotal year of open for me personally too. Here’s my own personal 2011 top 10 open highlights:

#1. The University of Open articulates a vision of a new kind of university that strategically chooses to use and contribute to the code of Open Source Software, publish research openly using Open Access principles, teach openly in the public using Open Pedagogies, share data on it’s activities using Open Data, and involve faculty and students in developing and using Open Educational Resources (OER). This vision of an alternative ‘university of open’ serves as an inspiration for me. I’ve been thrilled to find this idea picked up and promoted internationally by Sir John Daniel of the Commonwealth of Learning (Open Courseware, Open Content, Open Practices, Open Learning: Where are the limits?Tertiary Education: How Open?Open Universities: what are the dimensions of openness?Publishing with Public Money for Public Benefit)

#2. Award of grants for the 2010 BCcampus Online Program Development Fund which supports partnerships of BC public post secondary institutions in their development of online learning curricula as OER. This was the eighth consecutive round, the longest running publicly funded OER initiative I know of, bringing the cumulative 2003-2010 investment to $9 million. Kudos to BC’s Ministry of Advanced Education for its early foresight and willingness to back open over all these years.

#3. One of OER’s holy grails is reuse by others. I think there is a dearth of understanding about just what people think this means but this past year several significant events happened around OER developed in BC being picked up and expanded by others elsewhere. I find these examples fascinating as they represent real-life examples of what happens as OER mature. The University of British Columbia’s Virtual Soil Science Learning Resources are a great example of an OER initiative that started in BC and has expanded. The additional institutional partners brought on over time contribute to improving existing learning resources, developing new learning resources, and use existing virtual soil science learning resources for courses in their own institutions. I enjoyed helping bring together soil scientists in India with the core UBC team to further expand the work through an international partnership.

When someone says to me OER reuse I think about this – the formation of distributed social networks of faculty and students collectively working on shared curriculum.

Royal Roads University has a wonderful Open Educational Resources site and Mary Burgess, the lead for this initiative sent me an e-mail in November 2011 saying:

“We’ve had some exciting developments on our little OER project of late that I just had to share with you!

Last week, we found out that a consortium of Chinese institutions is using our Instructional Skills Workshop Online (shared from our OER site) – you can see it here.

And today, we found out that 2 of our Moodle customizations are being made part of Moodle core in version 2.3.

Finally, I had an email from a guy at the University of Madrid yesterday who is using another one of our Moodle patches.

We are over the moon that our work is of use to others!”

I love that last statement. It is exciting to see the work you openly share be of use to others.

#4. Consortium of BCcampus, WICHE, CCCS, North Island College, College of the Rockies and institutions in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado awarded Gates Foundation funded Next Generation Learning Challenges Wave I $750K grant for the North American Network of Science Labs Online. Especially momentous for me was the workshop we did at North Island College in Courtenay BC where over 50 educators, faculty and edtech specialists participated in a demonstration of the Remote Web-based Science Lab and in discipline panel discussions around the biology, chemistry and physics OER courses and labs this project is creating. This project is exciting and yet another example of an OER project that has been unfolding over several years in BC expanding outward and increasing impact through additional partners.

#5. Moodle Moot Canada 2011 keynote “Talking About All Things Open” with Terry Anderson, Stephen Downes, Gavin Hendrick and myself. Terry Andersons’ description of open scholarship was a key idea for me. I also got a blast out of openly engaging all conference attendees in crowdsourcing the Future of E-Learning.

#6. Open4Learning Educational Technology Users Group Workshop in Nelson BC. An awesome program exploring the diverse aspects of open in education from a BC perspective.

#7. OERu. I’ve described this initiative in some detail earlier in this post. It’s been fascinating to see this initiative evolve over 2011 and to be an active participant and facilitator in helping define what it is.

#8. Interview with Timothy Vollmer at Creative Commons resulting in Open Education and Policy

#9. University of Northern British Columbia Opportunity Side of Open talk, workshop on Finding and Using OER, and ABC Copyright Conference Especially enjoyed the conference Talkshop session exploring issues related to recent Access Copyright efforts to increase tariffs which caused many institutions to withdraw from Access Copyright and giving a keynote, the Opportunity Side of Open Part 2 which includes suggestions for actions faculty, students and institutions could pursue if they embrace and adopt open as a key aspect of their work.

I’ve received some inquiries from people as to whether I’ve evolved the University of Open concept. The answer is yes. Some of what I’ve been working on are these suggestions for actions faculty, students, and institutions could pursue if they embrace and adopt open as a key aspect of their work. I’ve been thinking about what people would do, how they’d behave, if they were committed to the University of Open. Here’s a brief synopsis of possible actions:

Open Faculty:

  • Make intellectual projects & processes digitally visible & open to criticism/comment
  • Do open research
  • Publish in open access journals
  • Self archive work for open peer and public review
  • Create a new type of education work maximizing social learning, participatory pedagogies, global connections
  • Teach open courses
  • Develop OER with communities of professional peers & students
  • Use open educational resources developed by others
  • Assign and author open textbooks

Open Students:

  • Use OER to select institutions & courses of study
  • Use OER for self-study
  • Engage in open study around OER with global peers of students
  • Assemble OER and open/free software tools into personal learning environments
  • Customize, enhance and develop OER (for credit)
  • Actively participate in social learning and form networks and connections
  • Track and use open data on learning to plan and manage learning process
  • Create open e-portfolios making learning projects, processes, and outcomes digitally visible

Open Institutions:

  • Work in consortia to develop and use OER for academic programs
  • Use OER to market & promote programs & coursesof study
  • Use Open Source Software and contribute to developer community
  • Reward (performance) and support (policy & funds) open access research publishing
  • Generate and publish open data around learning, scholarly activities, and outcomes/achievements
  • Create unique identity and establish value by extent of open activity and global benefits

#10. BCcampus Opening Education event. It’s really great to see in followup to this event that BC’s Electronic Library Network at their December meeting began planning initiatives around OER, open textbooks and a copyright course for faculty and students in 2012. I think librarians can make a huge impact on open and will play a much more central role in the way it plays out in education over the coming years.

photo by Paul Stacey

Going in to 2012 I see big opportunities for open to unfold on a larger scale. Summarizing calls for action from the above I hope:

  • Governments, municipalities and institutions adopt open policy and licenses
  • Legacy resources held by governments, municipalities and institutions are openly licensed
  • New grant funds for development of educational resources use open licenses
  • Faculty and students at the individual level automatically license their resources openly
  • International consortia form around the development and enhancement of open educational resources

For many “open” is not even on their radar screen. For others open is present but fragile. Still others think ‘Open-ness’ is growing, but in ways that are not quite what was anticipated by the more dedicated proponents of OERs. I agree with this last statement and hope I’ve depicted some of the breadth of ways open is growing in this post. I think open is past the tipping point. This year even institutions who were not early adopters began to find ways to be participants. I think there are even more people and organizations on the sidelines looking for a way to enter the field.

As is apparent from this blog Creative Commons licenses are critical enablers of open. 2012 will be Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary. I’ve been imagining ways I’d improve Creative Commons. Everyone in the Open Educational Resource (OER) space has been wanting some way for tracking reuse. I think this could be enabled through the license although I’d frame it differently. I think we should be tracking attribution which is a condition of all Creative Commons licenses. Ideally creators receive attribution notification when others reuse their work – like pingbacks, or trackback in social media. Its motivating for creators to know that their work is having an impact and valued by others. Tracking attribution will generate a means of showing impact akin to research citations. My colleague Scott Leslie has done some work around tracking OER reuse and I’m also intrigued by the Total Impact work Heather Piwowar is involved with.

I’ve also been thinking of the potential to go “beyond permissions to intentions”. Let me explain. Creative Commons licenses do a great job of complementing copyright by providing a mechanism for creators to express permissions they accord others in terms of use of their work. However, what is missing is any expression of creators intentions. Are they giving permissions and don’t really care how its used? Would the creator like to see derivatives of their work that others create? Is the creator really interested in finding others who want to collaborate with them on the continuous improvement of the work? This latter intention is in my view critical to the long term success of OER. All open initiatives succeed over the long term based on the size and vibrancy of the open community that gets built up around it. I really wish there was some means of expressing creator intentions so that others reusing the work can do so in ways that fulfill creator aspirations.

So in summary I see Creative Commons licenses as having three components:

  1. Permission – this component exists already. It’s how creators express the permissions they are according to creators in terms of attribution, creating derivative works/or not, allowing commercial use/or not, and requiring share alike/or not.
  2. Attribution – this component would make explicit how users are to provide attribution to the original creator and send the creator a trackback indicating attribution/reuse.
  3. Intention – this component would express the creators intention in making the work available through Creative Commons and provide a means for subsequent users to support those intentions.

I’d like to see each of these three functions embedded in the license and available to creators and subsequent users with one click. One of my big interests is in increasing the value proposition for creators.

This blog post provides a body of evidence on the many ways open expanded in 2011. I’d like to close this blog by celebrating one form of open that happens every year at this time – the way Christmas opens the human heart. Merry Christmas all.

photo by Deborah Stacey

State of Online Address
November 2, 2011, 3:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

BCcampus is a member of the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technology (WCET). WCET’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of effective practices, advancing excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. We like WCET as it is one of the few organizations that really brings together consortia based organizations like BCcampus from across North America. Attending their annual gathering and conference gives us a chance to see the latest education technology innovations and to benchmark ourselves agains other consortia.

Thought I’d share a brief summary of what took place at WCET’s 23rd annual conference in Denver. Given that WCET is primarily made up of US organizations I thought I’d playfully riff on the US State of the Union Address by calling this report a State of Online Address.

The opening keynote was customized based on live audience feedback. The speakers, using Poll Everywhere, presented the audience with multiple topics and invited them to express their choice using mobile phones, twitter, and the web. Responses are displayed in real-time on charts in PowerPoint. The speakers then customized their presentation based on the audience choices. Over the course of their presentation the speakers referenced Headmagnet as a means of maintaining something in short term memory, Historypin, supported by Google, as a means of creating a global history by crowdsourcing photos from everyone around the world, Enterzon a multiplayer online learning environment designed to teach Chinese language and culture through gameplay, and the nursing neighbourhood as a means of learning how to diagnose health issues via virtual patients.

The 2011 Horizon Report lists learning analytics on the four-to-five year adoption horizon but the rapid rise of analytics tools combined with the increasing demand for data-driven decision making is pushing this horizon closer. Learning Analytics was a hot topic throughout the entire event. Learning analytics mines data from Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Student Information Systems (SIS) to support real time data driven decision making. Some learning analytics data analysis is oriented to supporting teaching and learning. The University of Maryland Baltimore County showed an analytics tool they use within their LMS that tells students where they are in course compared to other students. It generates a grade report that shows how students are doing against others in class and shows how activities of those who are doing well are different from those not doing well. LMS activity of students with D and F grades are noticeably lower from those getting higher grades. Students who enrol after a course starts, stop attending for five consecutive days, log-in to the LMS fewer than three times per week or have less than three hours of activity per week are considerably at risk of dropping out. Based on these analytics some institutions are taking actions where college advisors are provided with data on students that shows their last login date, activity in minutes, activity submission counts, course points earned and course average to date as a means of triggering interventions and contact with at risk students. Another learning analytics tool called Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice (SNAPP) does an analysis of discussion forums activity and generates networking maps identifying who is leading discussion, volume of posts, volume of responses, and interconnections between those posting to discussions. This has led to research exploring a whole range of questions such as:

  • Do networks between students relate to successful completion?
  • How does professor discussion interaction with at risk or low performing students impact student success?
  • How important is multi node, multi directional interaction to course success?

While some learning analytics are focused on teaching and learning others are focused on supporting administration and policy makers. Analytics coming out of LMS”s can help administration identify students who are not engaged and at risk of drop out. One of the largest examples of Learning Analytics work in this category is the Predictive Analytics and Recording (PAR) framework being funded by the Gates Foundation. This project is aiming at deeper analytics by analysing 3 million unique records from 6 different institutions across 34 common variables to determine what trends there are for retention and progression. It is well known that retention in campus-based face-to-face courses is higher than online courses so the findings coming out of this analysis are highly anticipated. Factors analysed include things such as completion based on the % of students still enrolled at the end of a course, success based on % of students who haven’t withdrawn or received a D or an F, continued semester to semester enrolment and progression to degree completion. However it is interesting to note that definitions for factors like length of a semester, what a course is, course completion and even grades differ across institutions making it challenging to have common measures. Analysis is being done using descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, and predictive modelling. This project is essentially looking at what factors impact loss, progression, momentum. It’s still early days for this project and one thing all the learning analytics projects mentioned is that 90% of the work is getting the data. Extracting data out of the LMS/SIS is challenging. Analysis of the data is 10% of the work. However, early analysis has focused on trying to find what was universally true for those who got a C grade or better in a course vs those who disenroll. Students were categorized as high risk, medium risk or low risk. High risk students have attributes such as being new to online, returning to school after 5 years, having a low high school GPA or failing an online course in the previous two years. Preliminary findings indicate that the biggest factor causing at risk students to disenroll is if they are pushing multiple courses simultaneously. Taking concurrent courses is not a good idea for students who are at risk. However, in many cases receiving student aid is contingent on being enrolled in multiple courses. This is an example of a learning analytics finding that suggests we rethink financial aid policy. This PAR project is large and part of the challenge is simply demonstrating that analytics like this can be done and that the methodology is scaleable. I look forward to hearing more in the coming months after this project has had the time it needs to complete their analysis.

If you are interested in reading more about learning analytics and understanding who is doing what in this field I recommend the Next Generation Learning Challenges paper called Underlying Premises: Learner Analytics.

The majority of WCET members are based in the US. In October 2010 the US Department of Education released a broad package of regulations. These new Program Integrity Rules which became effective July 1, 2011 have a direct impact on all US institutions involved in creation and delivery of online learning. A great deal of attention and effort has been paid to the new rules around the state authorization regulation requiring all institutions teaching students outside of their state to have authorization to do so from the state the student resides in. This has caused online learning providers considerable grief and untold hours and money as colleges and universities scramble to comply. While state authorization has received the greatest attention other regulations have an impact on the way online learning is being provided including provisions dealing with the definition of credit hours, compensation of persons and organizations involved in student recruitment and enrolment, and defining when a student ceases to be considered in attendance. This last one is particularly interesting as last day of attendance for online students used to be based on “last click” within an LMS – last day of attendance for on campus students is based on physical presence in the classroom. However the new regulations for online learning deem last click inadequate and require “evidence of academic engagement”. This appears to be a double standard as we all know that physical presence in a bricks and mortar classroom hardly constitutes academic engagement. All these new regulations have had a chilling effect on online learning in the US. Huge effort is being diverted from online learning innovation to red-tape compliance. While some of the regulations are obviously intended to curb the excesses of private education providers in the US many of them seem based on a fundamental distrust of online and distance education. I’m glad we’re not embroiled in similar regulations here in Canada.

As mentioned WCET brings together online learning consortia and it was sobering to hear news from US consortia in Texas, Ohio and Arizona about either closures or significant reductions in support. In contrast Canada’s consortia including BCcampus, eCampus Alberta and Contact North/e-Learning Network (and soon to include the Ontario Online Institute) are doing well.

While the magnitude of online learning innovation in the US may be diminished it is not extinguished. Each year WCET issues WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) awards (I received one in 2008). This years WOW Award winners are:
1. Century College and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System for GPS LifePlan

2. Kansas State University for University Life Café a site providing counseling on emotional wellness.

3. Regis University for Passport to Course Development a site integrating graphics, audio, multimedia and technology to provide support for faculty new to online environment.
(Note if you visit this site use Password: passport11 and Name: passport11 to login)

Another US initiative that received considerable profile (and one that I’m particularly interested in given my involvement with Open Educational Resources) is the US Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program.

This initiative is providing $500 million a year for four years to expand and improve the ability of eligible institutions to deliver education and career training programs. These programs are targeted to workers adversely affected by trade agreements. The Department of Labor is encouraging online/technology-enabled learning and evidence based strategies and grantees are required to make all the resources developed Open Educational Resources by applying a Creative Commons (CC-BY) license to all content developed with grant funds. This program has four priorities:
1. accelerate progress for low-skilled and other workers
2. improve retention and achievement rates to reduce time to completion
3. build programs that meet industry needs including developing career pathways
4. strengthen online and technology enabled learning

Thirty two awards were announced 26-Sept-2011 for the first year of this program. Twenty three of the awards involve consortia, 9 are individual efforts. Grantees are being offered a complementary set of support services funded by the Gates Foundation including open licensing support from Creative Commons, accessibility support from CAST, technology assistance from Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative and best practices in using OER from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium TAACCCT grant was profiled by Rhonda Epper. This project received $17.2 million for a 36 month project. The consortium involves 15 community colleges, 14 energy industry employers, the Colorado Dept of Labor and Employment, 10 regional workforce centres. Together the consortium support Colorado’s fast growing energy industry sector by expanding and redesigning for hybrid delivery the following programs:
– Clean Energy Technology
– Wind Energy Technology
– Utility Line Technology
– Oil & Gas Technology
– Process Technology/Instrumentation
– Mining/Extractive Technology
– Water Quality Management
Many of these will be stackable credentials with options that allow certificates to ladder into associate degrees.

More information on the TAACCCT program and the capacity building grant awards is available at

I recently got an iPad and while I’m in the early stages of using it have already been impressed with it’s unique form factor, rich array of apps, and tactile/gesture modes of interacting with it. Some education institutions are actively piloting iPads on campus and I was particularly taken with how William Hicks at the Community College of Aurora/Colorado Film School incorporated the use of iPads into his film school script writing courses. Traditionally students in his short script analysis course write a script hand it in and think of it as being finished. William wanted to break the notion of scripts being untouchable and devised a unique and powerful workflow supported by iPads linking students across three different courses. Students in his Creative Producing class hire a script writer in his Script Writing course to write short scripts which are reviewed and annotated by students in a third class. iPads loaded with the app iAnnotate are used to support distribution and commenting on scripts. Prior to using the iPad his class had only been able to analyse 15 scripts. With the iPad they analysed 84 scripts, a six fold increase in efficiency. In addition he found that students prefer the iPad over hand written notes and the annotations were seen as more credible, easier to understand, and more thorough. In his view the iPad has revolutionized the outcomes in his courses. He also notes that the form factor of the iPad makes it easy to simply hand it back and forth for viewing and contrasts this with the “huddling around the campfire” way sharing content on a computer has traditionally been done.

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about use of mobile devices for online learning lately. The closing session at WCET focused on innovations of which mobile was one. By 2014 mobile internet consumption will overtake desktop consumption. Android phone popularity was used to exemplify this growth. In 2009 Android had 2.8% market share, in July 2011 over 550,000 Android mobile devices were being activated every day with growth of 4.4% every week, by August 2011 Android had 48% of the smart phone market. Of course mobile devices have significant constraints. The screen is small with low device resolution and pixel density. The touch gesture paradigm of interacting with a mobile device is not as precise as a mouse. There are limitations in cpu processing and battery power. Some devices are locked down platforms with real limitations such as the non-support of Flash on an iPhone or iPad. However, there is a great deal of potential in using mobile devices as a supplement to traditional computing and exploring education possibilities for an untethered learning experience not constrained by space or time.

Finally I should note that the NANSLO online science program I’m involved with was both a formal presentation at this event and celebrated as a significant innovation in the closing session.

So there you have it. A mini snapshop on the state of online in the US.

Teaching Science Online

As reported April 2011 in my Up For the Challenge post I’m involved in a Next Generation Learning Challenges project called the North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO). We just completed a two day workshop at North Island College that brought together everyone involved to demonstrate the remote web-based science lab infrastructure being used for some of the labs, status progress, and build momentum toward next steps.

cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo of Albert Balbon at NANSLO Workshop shared by WesternEdge Photos

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education is a hot topic across North America as graduates from these fields are needed to bolster and advance economic development in both Canada and the US. Teaching science online is particularly challenging so I thought I’d report out on what we’re doing as a way of helping others pursuing the development of lab-based science courses online.

BCcampus support for online science goes back to 2003 when we provided funding for development of two North Island College online astronomy courses:

  • SSA 100 Space Science and Astronomy: Introduction to Solar System Exploration, and
  • SSA 101 Space Science and Astronomy: Introduction to Deep Space Astronomy

Part of this support went toward establishing an observatory at Tatla Lake. Students can use the observatory’s telescope and CCD Detector for labs acquiring astronomical images using just their web browser.

Tatla Lake Observatory

Remote-control of real scientific instruments over the Internet has been an integral part of subsequent online science course development efforts here in BC. Additional rounds of BCcampus Online Program Development Funds supported development of biology, chemistry, physics and geology online courses as well as hardware and software for use in remote web-based science labs.

There is plenty of coverage these days about faculty resistance to online learning – see here and here for example. There are lots of skeptics especially around teaching science online. One of the main sticking points is doing labs online.

I highly recommend the book Teaching Lab Science Courses Online by Linda and Peter Jeschofnig.

The authors note that online labs face significant challenges related to faculty acceptance and buy-in. Faculty have:

  • uncertainty about how to offer a valid lab component with online courses
  • difficulty moving outside the box of the campus laboratory experience
  • doubts that students can independently perform lab work in nontraditional locations
  • doubts that off-campus work can be as effective as traditional face-to-face laboratory work
  • fear about safety and liability issues if students experiment without supervision

These challenges impede adoption, use, and agreements for articulation and transfer.

Teaching science online requires innovations for the laboratory component of courses. The two primary means by which the science labs have been done online so far are simulations (see here and here for example) and lab kits (here and here for example). BC’s contribution to the field is a web-based innovation called the Remote Web-based Science Lab (RWSL). The RWSL innovation is a unique and different approach to what has historically been used. Instead of simulating a lab or providing a lab kit for the distance education student to use at home, the Remote Web-based Science Lab allows students to perform experiments by remotely controlling real lab equipment over the Internet.

The idea of web-based remote control of real lab equipment and instrumentation is cutting edge and novel but not without precedent. Unmanned deep-sea submarines and Mars rovers have conducted experiments through remote control instrumentation. Surgeons remotely access surgical robots to perform surgery on patients who are thousands of miles away. The challenge with RWSL is to implement this approach for experiments in online science courses at a cost factor and scale that provides faculty and students with widespread access and effectively achieves the required learning outcomes. RWSL attempts to leverage the power of successful lab experiments that are currently used in traditional settings and make them available to students remotely. This has never been done before and is largely what attracted interest from our US partners in the NANSLO initiative and the Next Generation Learning Challenge grant.

I expect you are all still trying to wrap your mind around just what the RWSL is. So let me elaborate.

The RWSL has four main components:
1. Observation
2. Physical Manipulation
3. Data Acquisition
4. Communication

The observation component involves a series of cameras that are setup in the laboratory environment and provide students and faculty with a view of the lab and the specific equipment being used. Some of the cameras let the students pan around the room, tilt up or down, or zoom in and out. Other cameras are small inspection cameras for tasks such as looking through the view finder of a microscope.

In the image above you see one of the pan/tilt/zoom cameras we use in the upper right and an example of a small inspection camera in the lower right. The image on the left is what a student sees on their screen. The video image from the camera is shown as well as a set of controls. The controls on the left give the students the ability to pan, tilt, zoom. To the right are controls that let you jump cameras to pre-set views and along the bottom are controls that let you toggle between multiple cameras. This observation interface is created as a virtual instrument using National Instruments LabView software.

The physical manipulation aspect of the RWSL provides students with the ability to actually operate and control instrumentation.

Some experiments involve picking up, moving, and placing items using a robotic arm such as the one shown in the image above. Other experiments involve physical manipulation and movement using linear slides and rotary tables. A motor driven linear slide allows you to move and position something along a linear x or y axis. A rotary table gives you the ability to position something along a circular path. A slide loader is a mechanical device that can be attached to nearly any microscope. It is computer controlled, and can load slides into the microscope without needing physical handling by a lab tech. Not every experiment requires all these devices. The specific way physical manipulation is done varies from experiment to experiment.

In addition to being able to observe and physically manipulate lab resources the RWSL provides a means for data acquisition.

In the image above (you can click on all images to make them bigger) we see a setup for a chemistry or physics experiment using a spectrometer to analyse properties of light. The photo at the top shows a pan/tilt camera in the lower left providing a view of the gas filled tubes shown in the student screen shot view in the bottom right. A small inspection camera at the end of the blue cable in the photo is mounted on a linear table that can move left and right in front of the gas tubes. Students use linear table controls to physically manipulate the position of the inspection camera in front of one of the gas tubes and fire the tube which then emits a light. The blue cable feeds the image of that light from the inspection camera to the spectrometer box where data on the intensity and wavelength of the light source are processed and displayed graphically, as is seen on the left panel of the student screen shot view. Students can download both the raw data and the graph to their own computers for more detailed analysis (determination of what gas is in the tube for example) and inclusion in their lab reports.

The communication part of the RWSL provides for student to student or student to instructor communication while the experiment is being conducted. The RWSL can be used by groups of students (3 to 5 students/group) working together on a lab. The dialogue among students while doing a lab is seen as an important part of the whole experience as is the potential for an instructor or lab tech to communicate with the students. RWSL communication can be fulfilled in a variety of ways (we’ve not yet landed on one particular way). A 1-800 phone line could be made available or web-based communication through text chat, or voice and video communication through Elluminate, Skype, Google+ or other such tools used. If web-based communication is used one consideration is keeping its use of bandwidth to a minimum so that the computer processing associated with observing, physical manipulation and data acquisition is not adversely impacted.

While the RWSL aspect of NANSLO is especially interesting and innovative I’m actually equally enthused about the project for its Open Educational Resources (OER) approach. Through BCcampus support development of online courses in physics, biology and chemistry were underway in advance of NANSLO and licensed as OER using Creative Commons. Through NANSLO project support, Colorado Community College System (CCCS) online physics, biology, and chemistry courses are being meshed with the existing BC OER courses to create best-of-breed versions of these courses. These new courses will be made freely available to others as OER using Creative Commons licenses as specified by the Next Generation Learning Challenge.

For me one of the best parts of the course development process has been the formation of multi-institutional discipline panels for each of biology, chemistry and physics. Faculty members from across BC’s public post secondary system have been working with faculty from Colorado, Montana and Wyoming to examine both the BC and Colorado courses including the labs. Some faculty are from two year institutions, some from four year institutions, with the hope that this mix will help smooth the way for articulation and transfer agreements for these courses. Some faculty have been teaching online for quite a while others are skeptics so the dialogue is fascinating.

Discipline panel members were provided with comprehensive comparisons of BCcampus & CCCS online course curriculum. They’re comparing course overviews, learning outcomes, topics, textbook, hours of study, etc. with the goal of establishing rough equivalency between BCcampus & CCCS online courses. Listservs & wikis were set up to facilitate discussion & provide an easy-to-edit space to compare documents. Its worth mentioning that much of this work is being done in the open and can be seen on the NANSLO wiki.

Discipline panels have been working toward an 80/20 version of these courses where 80% of the curricula used in BC and Colorado is common and 20% is localized or unique to the jurisdiction. This 80/20 approach is an intriguing idea and one I hope to see more generalized in OER development around the world. It is especially exciting and important to see team-based OER development happening across institutions and countries.

A lot of discipline panel discussion is focused on the labs and in particular what labs might best be done using the RWSL. The BC versions of these science courses were designed to use lab kits for some experiments and the RWSL for others. The Colorado versions of these courses were using lab kits for all experiments. The question becomes what learning outcomes are best achieved through lab kits and what learning outcomes are best achieved through RWSL. Its important not to be thinking that all the labs are done through the RWSL. A lot of discussion I’ve been involved with essentially pits RWSL head to head against lab kits. At the NANSLO workshop last week we talked about reviewing the labs with an eye to what labs are best done through lab kits, what ones through RWSL, and even what ones might best be done via simulation. I think this approach of optimally blending lab kits, RWSL and simulations has the greatest potential. What we also need is to instructionally design a pedagogical approach for teaching science online using this blend.

An interesting aspect of the lab discussions has been the realization that learning objectives are usually established at the course level. Rarely are there specific learning objectives associated with specific experiments or labs. So while some faculty may believe that the acquisition of fine motor skills required to operate equipment such as a microscope are essential it’s not always the case that such objectives have been documented as course requirements. Discussion around objectives for labs has also led to consideration of whether additional learning outcomes should/could be added around digital literacy and acquisition of skills associated with remote control of instrumentation. Science work in all professions is increasingly requiring these kind of competencies. I’m particularly heartened by discussions like this that don’t just view the RWSL as having to accomplish the same learning outcomes as are achieved on campus but also consider learning outcomes that the RWSL enables that are different from, or go beyond what is accomplished on campus.

As this work has unfolded its become increasingly clear that faculty need a sandbox/development RWSL environment where they can get hands-on experience using the RWSL. A sandbox development environment will allow faculty to explore what is possible and come up with improved lab designs and conceptualize additional lab experiments. This need for a development environment is challenging for our project. The hardware and software purchased so far is totally allocated to programmer/technician development of experiments and a production environment where the RWSL is being used by students in real courses. We’ve not had the budget to acquire a full set of RWSL equipment for a sandbox/development environment. Nonetheless we’re committed to finding a way to provide faculty with hands-on opportunities.

For anyone who has tried to do development of this scale on a tight timeline I expect you know there are always lots of challenges. On the technical side, in addition to the need for a sandbox/development environment we have two other challenges (at least :)) One is managing bandwidth and dealing with latency. On the latency side we’ve had success using the RWSL across BC but have had latency problems with Colorado using the RWSL in BC. I think we’re getting close to solving that but it does reveal the need to optimize bandwidth utilization. Ideally we’d tap in to CANARIE’s big Internet pipes going across Canada to ensure the data is flowing through as big a pipe as possible. In BC access to CANARIE Internet pipes is managed for universities by BCNET and for colleges by PLNET. From what I’ve found out to date the RWSL in BC is currently on a 100 megabit pipe. Of course there are other bottlenecks – getting through firewalls at institutions, and the speed of Internet service students/faculty are getting at home through their ISP are also factors. Our tests of RWSL indicate that students need at least a 4 megabit per second download speed.

Another challenge we have with the RWSL is the need to put in place a scheduling system. We need to be able to specify when the RWSL setup for a particular experiment is available for faculty to try or students to use for labs in courses. This scheduling system needs to allow for faculty and students (or groups of students) to sign up for a time slot when they plan to do the lab. Part of our discussion around this has been whether the scheduling system needs to be integrated with the Learning Management System (LMS) being used to deliver the online courses or whether it can be separate from the LMS. There is also an authentication and logon component. If you have recommendations on scheduling systems let me know by commenting on this post.

Not all the challenges are technical. Articulation and transfer of credit are particularly thorny issues.

The NANSLO project is ambitious. In addition to developing OER versions of biology, chemistry and physics and enrolling students we’re:

  • replicating the BC RWSL in Colorado
  • doing an Environmental Scan of other remote science lab initiatives across North America
  • developing an Adoption How-To Manual for others who want to pursue a similar path
  • creating a Scale Network Template that looks at the policies, procedures, business model and sustainability factors associated with establishing a North American Network of Science Labs Online

The logic model below shows a diagram of our activities (click on it to make it bigger).

Phase one of the NANSLO project goes through to July of 2012 so we have a long way to go but I thought you all might be interested in this report out on what we’re doing and progress so far. We’re already planning a phase 2 of the NANSLO initiative. In considering the future we’ve been talking about a whole range of things including:

  • partnering with other existing science lab online initiatives to broaden the areas of science beyond physics, biology, and chemistry to other scientific domains
  • expanding development of online science courses using the RWSL from first year to second, third, and fourth years toward a complete credential
  • relieving wait lists associated with on campus science courses, where the constraining factor is often the availability of physical lab space, by using RWSL labs in existing campus-based science course offerings – articulate just the lab?
  • expanding online science courses and the RWSL to the high school
  • developing or adopting an open textbook for the open biology, chemistry and physics courses
  • examining the pros and cons of a centralized model of RWSL vis a distributed model with potentially discipline specific nodes
  • establishing a business model for RWSL provision as a shared service to an entire system or consortia
  • sustaining and expanding the consortia to involve tribal councils, other institutions or states/provinces

Welcome comments and expressions of interest.

And finally I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all the people involved in this project. I especially want to thank my BC colleagues Albert Balbon, Ron Evans, Gina Bennett, Mike Valmorbida, the BC faculty on discipline panels and the involvement of North Island College and College of the Rockies. Working with our US partners has been fantastic, we’ve got a great team – a special thanks to Pat Shea, Rhonda Epper, Dan Branan, and Catherine Weldon, CCCS, WICHE and our Wyoming and Montana partners. To NGLC and the Gates/Hewlett Foundations thanks for supporting this initiative!

Opening Education

Proposed new copyright laws,  confusion over what is allowed and isn’t allowed under fair dealing, Access Copyright’s attempt to increase tariff’s, risk adverse legal counsel advice, universities and colleges pulling out of Access Copyright. Has all this got your head spinning?

In parallel to the changing regime of copyright new open licensing and sharing practices have emerged.

As part of Open Access week BCcampus and partners are hosting an Opening Education event on October 17 to explore how the practices of Open Access research publishing and Open Educational Resource (OER) course content have emerged as complementary and creative alternatives to traditional copyright practices. Join us in this exploration of how creators are using digital open licenses to essentially clear copyright upfront in such a way that sharing and reuse by others is pre-authorized and encouraged.

We’ve created an Opening Education micro-site at This site provides a means for online registration and provides information on the location, speakers agenda, and associated resources. The event will take place face-to-face at Simon Fraser University’s Woodwards campus in downtown Vancouver and be simultaneously webcast over the Internet. The webcast will be recorded and posted to the micro-site for reference after the event.

The event features a wide range of speakers representing organizations who are actively engaged with open access and open educational resources. Presenters include:

  • David Porter, Executive Director BCcampus
  • Sir John Daniel, CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
  • Scott Leslie, Open Education Client Services Manager, BCcampus
  • Venkataraman Balaji, Director for Technology and Knowledge Management, Commonwealth of Learning
  • Wayne Mackintosh, OER Foundation, New Zealand
  • Rory McGreal, Associate Vice President Research & UNESCO OER Chair, Athabasca University
  • Joy Kirchner, Scholarly Communications Coordinator, University of British Columbia Library
  • Paul Stacey, Director Curriculum Development, BCcampus

Resource links on the micro-site are grouped to portray the range of activities each of these speakers and organizations are pursuing around open access and open educational resources. We encourage you to explore the resource links in advance for orientation.

Hope you can join us.

Paul Stacey

In For Questioning

cc licensed (BY NC SA) flickr photo shared by Pyriet

Do you think online learning is isolating, impersonal and devoid of social contact? Have you ever used Skype, WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate, or Facebook? Do you know what an Internet discussion forum is? Have you ever been moved to tears or laughed out loud by something on the Internet? Have you ever taken online learning?

Is Abject Learning really abject? Which of the following three Canadians do you think has contributed the most to e-learning – Murray Goldberg, Tony Bates, Stephen Downes? If you could spend time with one of these three which would you choose? Do you think OLDaily is a platform for Stephen Downes’ personal views or a research program of the National Research Council’s Institute for Information Technology? If health and education together represent approximately 60-70% of all provincial budget expenditures (Ontario, BC, …) why is there so much research funding available for health and virtually none for education?

Isn’t there a tremendous potential for Canada to develop and roll-out online learning for the trades at a national level? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if that development led to Open Educational Resources for the trades? In Canada, where education is a provincial mandate not a federal one, is it possible the provinces could collaborate on such an endeavour? At what point will we switch to thinking about education globally not regionally?

Is it OK with you that faculty are not required to know anything about teaching? Do you think the government and institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the public by not requiring faculty to know how to teach? Do you think that the teaching practices associated with online learning are the same as the teaching practices used in the classroom? Are you fearful that online learning will eliminate the need for faculty? If I said to you that a faculty member can be replaced by a pre-recorded lecture streaming from a server, would you believe me? Or would you find such an idea laughable? Is a lecture an effective means of providing education? Do you think of lecture capture as an innovation? Or is that laughable too? Do students like having lectures available online? How would you teach online?

Do you know the difference between synchronous and asynchronous? Do you get all atwitter over Tweets? If you had to choose between using a blog or a wiki for online learning which would you choose, and why? If I said to you the first online course I ever took was on Enjoying Wine would you believe me? Can you imagine how such an online course would structure activities to engage students’ sense of smell and taste? Have you ever enjoyed champagne with popcorn on a hot summers day?

cc licensed (BY SA) flickr photo shared by Stéfan

Do you think online learning is an effective alternative to campus based learning? If not, why not? Are you aware of quality assurance practices for online learning? Isn’t it odd that online learning is subject to quality assurance but on campus learning is not?

Should online learning cost the same as campus based learning? Should tuition for an online course be the same as for an on campus course? If you had to choose between investing public funds in creating more on campus buildings or supporting the build out and provision of online learning infrastructure which would you choose? Are you interested in online learning for cost savings reasons? Cost savings for whom? With more and more campus based courses putting technology in the classroom and using Learning Management Systems to house course content is that saving money or adding more cost? Does anyone really know what the ROI of online learning is? Or even how to find out? Do you think it’s OK that Canada’s students are carrying so much debt on graduation?

When we’re transitioning campus based courses online should the learning outcomes be the same? Should we be considering the possibility of having special learning outcomes related to the online learning experience – say outcomes related to technology literacy and digital communications? Is it possible to do things through online learning that just aren’t possible on campus?

Do you believe that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone? How important is peer-to-peer based online learning? Are the experiences, knowledge, and skills students bring equally important as that of the teacher? Should students teach each other? Can online learning be personalized to provide multiple paths and options so students only have to study stuff they don’t know? Would you take a course from P2PU?

cc licensed (BY NC SA) flickr photo “David Lynch Interrogation Chair” shared by Homies in Heaven

Do you think traditional campus-based universities and colleges are doomed? What do you want universities and colleges of the future to look like? Should contemporary education focus on serving traditional geographic catchment areas or go global? How will institutional collaborations and partnerships shape and create a connected world? Would you like to participate in virtual classrooms that include students from around the world sharing perspectives from their country and culture? Do you agree with Lawrence Lessig that the education academy has an “ethical obligation at the core of its mission which is universal access to knowledge in every part of the globe“? Are you in favour of DIYU? What about OERu?

Can science be taught online? What about the labs? Would you hire someone to work as a scientist in a lab if their only exposure to the laboratory environment was through virtual means? Is most professional science work mediated by technology making use of computer-based instrumentation mainstream? Do you consider unmanned deep sea submarine experiments or Mars rover experiments “real science”? Are you comfortable with doctors using robots to do surgery from thousands of miles away?

Can art be taught online? What about the studio portion? Do you think visual artists must learn how to use a physical brush or are you OK with them learning to use the digital brushes available in Photoshop and Illustrator?

If collaborations and partnerships are the future of education why does government funding for education reward autonomy and competition? Is education a commodity? Or is education a public service? Should education be about economic development and acquiring skills for the work place or development of socially aware and responsible citizens? Can online learning support societal goals such as access to education, cultural diversity, and social inclusion?

How do education and learning theories like behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism work in an online learning context? Is connectivism the first new education theory for the digital age? Should online learning instructional designers foliow the ADDIE model or do we need to invent a new model that involves a more iterative, on-the-fly approach? Do we need new pedagogical models for online learning that differentiate the way different fields of study are taught online? Would pedagogical approaches for teaching business online be equally as effective for teaching nursing?

Are you aware that in the US states providing online learning to students not resident in that state require authorization from the state where the student resides? Can you imagine applying that principle more globally? Do you think thats bizarre in today’s borderless digital world? Can’t a student choose for themselves where they get their education from?

Are you in favour of a monolithic fully integrated online learning technology platform as is being assembled by Blackboard through acquisition of WebCT, Angel, Elluminate and Wimba? Or do you prefer a more flexible loosely coupled systems approach? Does Providence Equity Partner’s purchase of Blackboard for $1.64 billion make sense to you? On the Student Information Services (SIS) side is SunGard Higher Education Systems purchase by Hellman and Friedman LLC, a private equity company that already owns Datatel Inc good news for online learners? Will Hellman and Friedman (SIS) and Providence Equity (LMS) play together to create a unified edtech campus?

Is it possible for people to be addicted to their digital devices? Or is that as ridiculous as saying people who are overweight are addicted to knives, forks, and spoons?

If online learning is growing so fast and becoming increasingly core to both on campus and online education offerings why do so few institutions have an educational technology and online learning strategic plan?

Do you want to ask me a question? Do you think these questions make a profile of me? Are you curious how I’ll use your answers?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This post is inspired by Padgett Powell’s novel “The Interrogative Mood” in which every sentence is a question.

Professional Development Events and the E-learning Amoeba

I’ve been busy lately helping plan, organize, fund, and facilitate a number of events. I was thinking this morning about how they collectively convey an array of current e-learning trends. Here are the events so you can see what I mean:

I sometimes imagine e-learning as an amoeba. The entire outer membrane of an amoeba is expandable. At any given moment in time one or more areas of the membrane push out into pseudopods moving the amoeba forward and engulfing food for sustenance.


Like an amoeba, e-learning has an expandable outer membrane. At any given moment trends push out moving e-learning forward, bumping in to barriers, acquiring sustenance in the form of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t, determining where to go next. I think of e-learning users (students, teachers, tutors, faculty, etc.) as the ectoplasm particles inside e-learning’s membrane. As a critical mass of users builds and presses outward e-learning’s membrane expands and moves, its’ future defined by all those within. The events I’ve been participating in each represent a current trend pushing out e-learning’s flexible membrane.

So, here’s a bit more on these e-learning events. All of them are happening over a two month period from April 4, 2011 through June 4, 2011. The school year has a certain rhythm and these months are one of the phases in the year when professional development can happen. The number of people participating in these events ranges from 30 to over 400. The cumulative number participating in them all is well over a thousand. Events like these require extensive planning, design and production. Its a bit like putting on a theatrical production. It’s impossible for me to give a complete synopsis of each event but within each event I’ll describe some of the areas of motion and action that are pushing e-learning’s membrane and a few of the ways I’ve contributed.


Privacy and Cloud-based Educational Technology

My colleague Tori Klassen did a fantastic job with this event and I enjoyed helping facilitate the day.
Major themes:

  • cloud-based computing offers substantial benefits including cost effectiveness, ease of access, scaleability and reliability
  • educational access and use of cloud-based computing services based in the US requires personal data from users which due to the US Patriot Act infringes privacy laws of BC
  • cloud-based computing can still be utilized if students give permission and/or if identities are anonymized

Tori, wrote a great background paper on this topic which is available here.
A full conference report and summary of recommendations is available here.

Another related topic is the data mining of your personal interests by technology companies who then embed or present advertising to you that is customized to fit your interests. The amoeba video I use in this post is an interesting case in point. There is an embedded ad at the 10 second mark that generates an ad YouTube has determined fits your interests, Facebook does this by default too. I tried my darnedest to turn this ad off or find another clip I liked as much but to no avail. Nor is it easy to stop technology companies from tracking your interests without your approval. Reminds me of unsolicited marketing calls I get on my home phone number. Annoying and intrusive. On the other hand we’ve learned to tolerate a certain amount of this activity as we accept the fact that people have to earn a living.


Personalized Learning for the 21st Century

This event is organized to support discussions, networking and professional development around digital learning in BC’s K-12 education sector. The two major themes of 21st century digital literacy learning skills and personalized learning are current areas of focus. Close to one hundred sessions at this three day event explored all aspects of those themes. All sessions are listed on the conference web site.

I facilitated the closing panel of keynote speakers for this event. A closing plenary should encourage reflection, summarize overall experience, and suggest next steps. To draw these elements out of the panel and audience I asked them to consider:

  • what surprised you?
  • what inspired you?
  • what technologies, pedagogies, and resources did you hear about that you plan to further explore?
  • what did you learn that will help you personally in your work?


Canada Moodle Moot 2011

The Canada Moodle Moot happens every two years and this year I served on the program planning committee. The theme for the event was “Open Learning and Open Collaboration in Canada”.

I enjoyed organizing and participating in the opening keynote panel Talking About All Things Open and hearing Terry Anderson, Gavin Hendrick, and Stephen Downes elaborate on and explore some of the ideas I put forward with the University of Open.

The program planning committee for the Moodle Moot event had extensive discussions around the format and topic for the closing plenary. The original topic was to compare and contrast future development plans and product road maps for different learning management systems.

This got morphed to a broader topic – the future of eLearning. I’m a huge advocate of making events like this as active and inclusive as possible. I pushed for crowdsourcing ideas through multiple channels – via Twitter, via the Elluminate rooms where virtual delegates were, via discussion forum on the conference web site. Get ideas from the attendees and participants at the event. However, not all of the planning committee agreed with the idea of crowdsourcing the future of eLearning. Some were adamant that crowdsourcing the future of anything just doesn’t work. That got me to thinking …

  • Canada just had a federal election. Isn’t voting in a democracy a way of crowdsourcing parliamentary representatives for the future, or at least for the next four years?
  • What if we could crowdsource ideas on the future of eLearning at the Moodle Moot. Would those ideas be any less interesting or insightful than calling on a single keynote speaker to present their views on this topic?
  • In any adult education scenario isn’t it true that every participant brings with them expertise, and that the cumulative pooling and sharing of that expertise creates a powerful learning environment where the sum of the whole far exceeds what the teacher could provide on their own?

In the end the planning committee decided to proceed with crowdsourcing the future of eLearning which we did by asking delegates to write down their idea(s) on a piece of paper and tick off which of the following areas of eLearning their ideas pertained to:

  • tools and technologies
  • learning theories and pedagogies
  • content authoring and sourcing
  • instructional design
  • teaching and learning methods
  • evaluation, assessment, and credentialing

All ideas were then collected in a box.

The night before the closing plenary I mapped all the future of eLearning ideas submitted onto a giant poster (click on poster below to open .pdf version). The ideas submitted seem to loosely fall in to categories of Global, Students, Pedagogy, Teachers, Technology and Credentials. The Global category was particularly fascinating as there really wasn’t a tick box for this category but ideas relating to eLearning’s future being global came out anyway. Some ideas could have been placed in multiple categories. Some ideas are similar and can be grouped together creating a source of critical mass. I was totally impressed with the cumulative range of ideas delegates came up with. In my view, yes, you can crowdsource the future of eLearning.

Most events like this provide keynote presenters with thank you gifts. This year the Moodle Moot went with Oxfam Unwrapped gifts where the thank-you gift helps women and men in developing countries reach greater levels of self-sufficiency and control over their lives. I received two thank you gifts – Plant 50 Trees and Give a Flock. Very interesting approach.


Online Community Enthusiasts

The SCoPE online community brings together individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice. Sylvia Currie, the awesome steward of SCoPE, once a year organizes an Online Community Enthusiasts Day. This event is for all community coordinators, hosts, moderators, and everybody else interested in learning more about cultivating and sustaining online communities. It provides a gathering place to share resources, experiences, and opportunities. The theme for this years Online Community Enthusasts day was “Planning Excellent Community Events”. Since this event is all about excellent community events, a big part of the day involved experimenting with ways to enhance participation, share artefacts, and harvest what we learn.
Activities during the day included:

  • Fish Bowl
  • Open Space
  • Planning an online symposium to launch a community
  • Increasing participation by diversifying tools
  • Commitment Wall/Time Capsule

I really enjoyed meeting and working with fellow online community enthusiasts. Fantastic to see the energy and enthusiasm of all the up and coming online community leaders. It’s always interesting to hear the diverse range of uses online communities are being used for – climate action, mental health, education, religion, … A community of practice can form around almost any shared interest.

This is the first event I’ve ever participated in that came with a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Since this excellent community event is about exploring possibilities and experimenting wildly, we make no promises that the day will run smoothly! 🙂


Just Instructional Design Networking Event

The JustID group brings together individuals who are working as instructional designers within a variety of fields/educational sector groups (e.g., K-12, public sector, private, post-secondary). Instructional design has become increasingly important and its great to see this group getting together to share ideas, challenges, and best practices in instructional design. The themes for this years event were:

  • Emerging trends/changes in the field of Instructional Design
  • Impact of the recent changes/trends in Instructional Design (both in definition and in practice)

Five different topics were discussed in round table discussions that rotated every 20 minutes so everyone could discuss every topic.
The five topics were:

  • Innovation/creativity and instructional design
  • Social media, Web 2.0 and instructional design
  • Mobile learning and instructional design
  • Future of instructional design including instructional design for open learning and place-based learning instructional design
  • Designing for learning environments that aren’t courses (communities of practice, personal learning environments)

Dr. Tony Bates, a renowned expert in the field of educational technology and e-learning, did a fantastic job of capturing key ideas and providing a wrap-summary with a good dose of analysis and personal take away’s. Tony’s got a new book just coming out and I can’t wait to read it:


Open 4 Learning

It’s my distinct pleasure to work with BC’s Educational Technology Users Group in designing and hosting two workshop/conferences every year. Workshops are held at different BC public post secondary institution campuses every year. The Open4Learning workshop is being held beginning of June at Selkirk College in the Kootenays.

The theme for the workshop revolves around “Open”. Open and free tools, resources, and learning opportunities abound, but how are we integrating them into our work? What new skills are needed? What challenges are we facing? What value does open provide? What are the costs and risks?
The event invites exploration of questions in the following 4 streams.

1. Open, Free, & Alternative Teaching & Learning

  • Open Professional & Faculty Development: How do you choose which events to participate in? What formal and informal learning opportunities exist and are the best? How/have you and your colleagues given back to the educational community?
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course): Tales from the field – what’s your experience in MOOCs?
  • Teaching & Learning in the Cloud: Has cloud computing improved the way we share and collaborate? How are you using the cloud to learn or to teach?
  • Open/Free/Alternative Assignments: What are students doing besides traditional academic essays? Are students doing work “in the open”? What about assessment?
  • Alternative Formats for Presentation/Facilitation/Teaching Formats: Let’s talk about blends, baby! (synchronous/asynchronous)
  • Designing 4 Open? How/is this same/different? What are instructional/course designers doing to design
  • Impact of Open/ness

2. Open, Free, & Alternative Technologies

  • Tool-specific: Moodle, WordPress, cloud tools…? Specific sessions on specific free/open and open source tools.

3. Open Educational Resources (OERs)

  • What is your experience with OERs? Are you sharing? Are you using others’ stuff?
  • What’s really going on with your OER project? Tell us more!

4. Open or Not?: Privacy and other issues

  • How are we dealing with issues around privacy in a world moving increasingly towards openness, sharing and transparency?
  • What is the impact of the recent announcements to privacy legislation for learning? What are you doing/not doing at your institution because of privacy concerns?
  • What are the barriers of open, free, alternatives approaches to teaching and learning? Solutions/options?
  • Is our increased use of open technologies changing our attitudes towards privacy? How?

The resulting program and schedule is posted here.
I’m looking forward to doing a design session around the University of Open and co-presenting the North American Network of Science Labs Online.

In the spirit of openness everyone has been invited to participate in a crowd-sourced video keynote.
The vision is to create a keynote video that highlights the collective voice on the value of openness.

Here’s what we asked everyone to do:

Create a short video/interview/montage answering one or two of the following questions:

1. What is the value of openness?

2. What examples of openness stand out to you as being valuable/worthwhile?

3. WHY do you believe in the value of open education?

I put together the following short video around the first question addressing the value of open.

Given these events are about educational technology and online learning they increasingly involve multi-modal delivery where some of the face-to-face activities and presentations taking place on site are webcast or web streamed over the Internet allowing those unable to travel to still actively participate and benefit. I’m a big fan of using technology like this to expand participation and have been very active in facilitating the online activities. I increasingly believe these multi-modal delivery activities need way more intentional design – it doesn’t work so well just tacked on to the existing face-to-face event as an add on.

I recommend Terry and Lynn Anderson’s book “Online Conferences – Professional Development for a Networked Era” as a good overview of how this is done and the various factors that should be considered.

Finally these events take a lot of people to produce. I’m tempted to name names and personally thank them all but the list would be like rolling credits at the end of a movie. So let me just say I sure enjoy working collaboratively on these events and deeply appreciate the creative effort of all involved. It’s great fun working with you all pushing e-learning’s flexible membrane forward like an amoeba.

Up For The Challenge – Winning a Next Generation Learning Challenges Grant

Just finished writing up (with Tori’s help – thanks Tori) the official BCcampus blog post for this BC’s higher ed innovation attracts $750,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges grant and couldn’t resist posting it here too with added commentary (in italics). I’m pumped about heading up this initiative from the BCcampus end.

BCcampus is part of a consortium of Pacific Northwest higher education organizations on the receiving end of a $749,994 grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) – an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The winning proposal was based on online science courses and Remote Web-Based Science Lab, a BCcampus Online Program Development Fund initiative, which gained the attention of higher education organizations in the United States. With this grant, the B.C.-developed online science labs will be adapted for use at colleges and universities in the U.S.

Through the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), a consortia of BC post-secondary institutions developed online science courses for biology, chemistry and physics and a Remote Web-Based Science Lab for online delivery of the lab portion of those courses using remote scientific instrumentation controlled by students over the web. The resources coming out of this development are licensed for sharing and reuse as open educational resources through Creative Commons licenses.

This innovative work caught the attention of higher ed organizations in the United States, and BCcampus and B.C. post-secondary partners joined with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) to apply for money from the Next Generation Learning Challenges for consortia development of open, interactive core courseware.

The application for a grant to create a North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) was selected as one of the 50 finalists (out of 600 applicants) to move on to a full proposal. Out of those 50 finalists, the NANSLO proposal has now been selected as one of 29 applicants receiving a grant. The grant award is shared between the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) as principal investigator and BCcampus and the Colorado Community College System as co-investigators.

BCcampus and partner institutions North Island College and College of the Rockies will play an integral role with WICHE and the 13 institutions in the Colorado State Community College System in enhancing the BC-developed online science courses and adapting them for use at colleges and universities in the US. BCcampus and its B.C. post secondary partners will also help replicate in Colorado the BC-based Remote Web Based Science Lab, currently operating at North Island College, as the second node of a planned North American network of science labs online.

Special kudos to Ron Evans, Albert Balbon and Mike Valmorbida at North Island College and Gina Bennett at College of the Rockies for the vision and implementation of this innovative work. I’m particularly pleased to see this happen as it helps prove out the value proposition of OER and shows the benefits of open licensing. As I said to WICHE –
“We are thrilled to enter into a consortia partnership to improve and scale BC developed OER online science courses and associated Remote Web-based Science Lab into the US. Working together collaboratively will enhance and sustain the development and delivery of deeply engaging online science courses while at the same time producing a best-of-breed OER that others can adopt and localize.”

NANSLO’s disruptive innovation is the consortial development of online science courses for biology, chemistry and physics as Open Educational Resources (OER), and the online delivery of the lab portion of those courses using remote scientific instrumentation controlled by students over the web. Consortial development of OER ensures widespread adoption, and a remote web-based science lab provides an authentic science lab experience.

Looking forward to working with WICHE and CCCS on this. The proposal writing process was very collaborative and established a great foundation for continued teamwork.

NGLC focuses on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion by addressing a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education from grades 6 through college.  NGLC is led by EDUCAUSE in partnership with The League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design the Next Generation Learning Challenges, and fund the initiative.

In addition to funding, NGLC is gathering evidence about effective practices, and working to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges. The official Next Generation Learning Challenges Wave 1 Winners press release is at:

You can send the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative a message on twitter using @NextGenLC and follow along at hashtag #nglc. You can also follow Next Generation Learning Challenges on Facebook at