Paul Stacey

A Systems Approach to Open

In the 1990’s I worked for Hughes Aircraft of Canada developing large scale air traffic control systems for international customers around the world. Air traffic control systems are large, complex, mission critical systems. After extensive requirements gathering and analysis an overall architecture for the air traffic control system was defined including complete hardware and software requirements. Development of something so large required the overall architecture to be broken down into subsystem components which were then distributed to different teams for development. The lead systems engineering team had the responsibility of integrating developed subsystems into the final air traffic control system and ensuring that the overall architecture design and requirements were met.

This kind of approach is called systems engineering. The key characteristics of systems engineering are that it:

  • gathers, analyses and shapes customer requirements into an overall system
  • takes a holistic view that breaks the overall system down into components and integrates developed components together into a whole
  • uses and coordinates an interdisciplinary set of expertise and teams
  • focuses on not just the initial development of the system but its life cycle and iterative improvement over time
  • combines technical and human-centred practices and work processes

The early days of open licensing and open resources were primarily shaped by innovators and early adopters using Creative Commons licenses and creating open resources as independent individuals. What I see now is open moving from an individual activity to a large scale system wide activity similar to systems engineering. As open matures a more holistic approach is being adopted involving many people working together.

Increasingly I see a systems approach to open as being the most strategic and impactful. A systems approach takes a multi-stakeholder perspective, strategically considering all the stakeholders in a value chain and how they can work together to achieve a common goal. This shifts the focus from individual adoption of open practices to system-wide adoption. A system working together can achieve greater impact than an individual.

Let me give a couple of examples.

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit held in Vancouver 16-17-Apr-2014 brought together a wide range of organizations and people who are all collectively working on adopting, adapting, and authoring open textbooks for students. An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license (such as Creative Commons), and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. While online versions of open textbooks are available for free if students want hard copy they can print out their own or order a low-cost print version.

Open Textbook Summit logo

The open licensing of a textbook makes it possible for others to add to, adapt, translate, localize, and otherwise improve it. Everyone has 5R rights to:

Retain: Make, own, and control their own copy of the textbook
Reuse: Use the open textbook in its unaltered form
Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the book
Remix: Combine the book with other openly licensed content to create something new
Redistribute: Share copies of the original textbook, revisions, or remixes with others

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit featured speakers representing a wide interdisciplinary group of expertise including government & institution senior administrators, faculty, students (and here), librarians, authors, publishers, and technologists. This wide representation of multiple stakeholders who all play a role in creating open textbooks is a great example of a systemic approach. Each stakeholder’s involvement in creating and using open textbooks is important but it is the cumulative effect of multiple stakeholders working together that creates the greatest impact.

More about the BCcampus Open Textbook initiative can be found here.
If you want to see examples of open textbooks start here.

One of the great things about the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit was that it brought together not only multiple stakeholders but multiple regional open textbook initiatives. Representatives of open textbook initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond were all in attendance. This enables sharing and comparing of approaches and lessons learned not just from different stakeholders but from different regional system wide initiatives. Its fascinating, and informative, to hear about the BC open textbook initiative and compare it to the one in California, or Washington, or Oregon.

Inevitably the adoption of open practices requires stakeholders to change current modes of operation, sometimes dramatically so. Change of this magnitude can be disruptive and may threaten traditional roles and responsibilities, business models, and financial structures. A natural reaction to such change is fear, risk aversion, and preference for the status quo.

To generate movement and acceptance I’ve found it important to keep the focus on the shared goal, cause, or issue that open solves. In the case of open textbooks the shared goal is making education more accessible and affordable for students. Having a shared goal as the primary focus make business models, roles, modes of operation and the like secondary to the main goal. When the impetus and value associated with achieving the main goal are big enough, change happens, the system and stakeholders adapt, new models and modes of operation emerge. Adoption of open practices is best enabled when the value proposition of doing so is high.

Open textbooks are one great example of a systems approach to open.

Another example emerged for me in the context of leading an open models working group for the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Our task was to generate a range of open models that enhance the scalability and sustainability of food safety. Our primary goal was to show how open practices can support GFSP’s efforts to help ensure safe food, increase food supply chain value, accelerate economic growth, alleviate rural poverty, and improve public health outcomes. This is the big picture goal the GFSP seeks to attain.

Can adoption of open practices help the GFSP achieve this goal? If so, how?

The Global Food Safety Partnership is a public/private partnership representing many different stakeholders including:

  • governments
  • funders
  • regulatory agencies – public regulators, inspectors and managers
  • private sector agri-food processors and manufacturers
  • farmers and producers
  • universities, service providers, trainers and certification bodies
  • international organizations
  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

This suggests that a systems approach to open is required. It won’t be enough for one stakeholder to adopt open practices. The goals of GFSP are too large for that to be impactful. Achieving the big goals of GFSP requires multi-stakeholder coordinated participation.

One of the significant benefits of open practices is that they open up the opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved and participate. Food storage and cooking at home, the poor, the farmer, the food market seller, the street vendor, these uses and stakeholders are not well represented at the GFSP table. Adoption of open practices opens up the opportunity for them to be involved. If GFSP has a goal of alleviating rural poverty it is essential that they be engaged as active participants.

A systems approach to open offers opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. Multi-stakeholder adoption of open practices generates cumulative benefits for all stakeholders. In a systems approach to open the more stakeholders participating the greater the impact.

Applying a systems approach to open for GFSP considers the role of each stakeholder and what open practices they could adopt that would contribute to the big picture goal GFSP is seeking to realize. Its not a one size fits all approach. Different stakeholders adopt different open practices. Government and funders might adopt open policy that require deliverables produced through the funds they provide to be openly licensed. Providers involved in generating food safety training and learning resources can publish their content as Open Educational Resources. There are many forms of open and a myriad of open practices can be brought to bear on a shared goal.

For the GFSP we defined nine different open practices stakeholders could adopt:

  1. open content (including Open Educational Resources and Open Courseware)
  2. open data
  3. open access (research)
  4. open government
  5. open source software
  6. open standards
  7. open policy
  8. open licensing
  9. open hardware

GFSP Open Model Big Picture

For each type of open practice we provided GFSP relevant examples. Here’s a sampling:

  1. open content – see Digital Green and Food Safety Knowledge Network
  2. open data – the US web site releases government open data.In 2012, a national annual competition was created as part of the Health Data Initiative to stimulate the innovative use of health data in apps and products. The “Health DataPalooza” is now a sold out event attended by over 2,000 health providers, technology developers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and community advocates and has resulted in the launch of new products and companies. OpenFDA, providing easy access to public data of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and highlighting projects using these data, will be implemented in September of 2014.
  3. open access (research) – There are a number of open access journals and online publications that provide free and open access to scholarly articles specific to food safety, foodborne illness, manufacturing and processing practices, etc. In 2007 the US National Institutes of Health enacted an open access policy requiring the researchers they fund to make their final, peer‐reviewed manuscripts publicly available no later than 12 months after official date of publication. The number of open access journals is rapidly increasing – the Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 9,000. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central are two popular examples relevant to food safety.
  4. open hardware – See Open Source Ecology and Farm Hack for examples relevant to food production and food safety. Photosynq is an open research project whose goal is to create a low cost, hand-held measurement device which researchers, educators and citizen scientists can use to build a global database of plant health. A low cost mobile prototype has been developed to replace the large, expensive and stationary equipment that was previously required to measure photosynthesis.

One of the challenges in open work is helping people understand the myriad forms of open and how they work. Defining open practices, along with associated value propositions and examples goes a long way to establishing a common lexicon and a tool box of methods that can be strategically deployed.

All that and more is captured in the GFSP Open Models Concept paper. Feel free to read the whole thing if this interests you. I also want to express deep appreciation and thanks to Theresa Bernardo and Garin Fons who co-wrote this paper with me and to Chris Geith and the World Bank for the opportunity.

Writing the GFSP Open Models paper led me to have a heightened interest in the use of open practices for food related issues. My colleague Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons shared with me another great example – the Open Source Seed Initiative. Linux for Lettuce and The Carrot Hack provide thoughtful coverage of this important development.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

I also recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society (highly recommend) which contains a few other fascinating examples including Shared Earth connecting land owners with gardeners and farmers, and HerbShare which is fundraising to develop online, searchable community maps of fresh herbs available for sharing.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

A systems approach to open combines a wide range of open practices across multiple stakeholders and applies them to a shared common goal. It’s exciting work that not only accomplishes short term goals but sets in place a process that can scale, iterate, and sustain over the long term.

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Copyright and Personal Transformation

Packed up my office at BCcampus, took down the artwork, threw away the small amount of paper archives I had, loaded up the pickup truck, and closed the office door behind me. Thus ends almost 9 years at BCampus – the longest I’ve worked anywhere.

Judging by whats in the truck it’s amazing how small a footprint I’ve had. A rug, an odd ToDo chair that has been my place of work (instead of a desk), and a lamp that I like beside me – especially in the dark rainy days of winter.

On the other hand I’ve been sent e-mails by many people across BC’s post-secondary system expressing thanks and saying I’ve been an inspiration. Oh my, maybe that footprint is bigger than I think. To be honest I’ve been surprised by what many people have said in their e-mails to me. I had no idea they felt that way or thought those things – in some respects I wish I’d known!

BCcampus has been an amazing learning experience for me and I’m grateful to my senior management team colleagues, the entire BCcampus staff, the Ministry of Advanced Education, and the broader network of connections I’ve made across higher education. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help create BCcampus and believe it has become a world class innovation that is both an inspiration and an accomplished provider.

My career has followed an adult learning and educational technology trajectory, for which there has been no career path. All of us in educational technology are inventing our own careers and so I’m particularly delighted with this most recent turn as my career path leads me to Creative Commons. I’m taking everything I’ve been doing at BCcampus and moving it up onto an international level where I hope to have more impact. I look forward to engaging with others who are adopting open willingly, strategically, and with some excitement.

I’ve written extensively in this blog about my own personal experiences with Open Educational Resources and with the open movement more broadly. I’ve come to see “open” as a fundamental change not only for education but for society and the world at large. I can imagine a world where the sharing efforts of all raise the bar on standards of living and create a new global economic future based not so much on growth but on better global use of collective works.

This blog has been quiet over the last few months as I’ve been dealing with the practicalities of wrapping up BCcampus work and making arrangements for my new role at Creative Commons*. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have some off grid time at Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island where life was barefoot in nature, walking the beach, and riding boogie boards in the big surf. Time immersed in nature with no phone, no e-mail, no computer, no TV is wonderfully liberating and I came back rejuvenated and raring to go.

While I haven’t written much I have been following with great interest a number of significant developments including:

  • AUCC, ACCC, and Canadian university and college settlements with Access Copyright
  • Passing of new Canadian copyright legislation
  • Canadian supreme court ruling on copyright cases
  • UNESCO Paris OER Declaration
  • Adoption of MOOC’s by elite universities and for profits – edX, Coursera, Udacity, …
  • UK and European adoption of open access requirements for publicly funded research
  • developments around Creative Commons version 4 and release of new Creative Commons license generator

Thought I’d get back in to the swing of things by writing a short synopsis on some of these:

AUCC, ACCC, and Canadian University and College Settlements with Access Copyright

Most countries have copyright collectives – organizations which collect royalties or payments from licenses, performances, and even blank media, for the ostensible purpose of distributing it to copyright holders, creators, or engaging in activities which benefit copyright holders or creators. In Canada we have Access Copyright. Back in June 2010 Access Copyright proposed new interim tariffs that would raise the fee they collect from post secondary institutions across Canada from about $5/student to $35/45 per student. Amazingly this was proposed without business case financial justification and without any disclosure of the catalog of works in both print and digital form that they represent. In addition Access Copyright expanded definitions of what a copy is in highly contentious ways and mapped out extensive reporting and access requirement expectations.

Access Copyright’s proposed interim tariffs, new copyright definitions and reporting requirements were met with widespread objections from CAUT, ACCC, AUCC, CLA, Canadian Alliance of Students, and others. I wrote about this development in Jan 2011 Access Copyright’s Royalty Demands Spark Interest in OER. By May 2012 at least 34 Canadian colleges and universities had opted out of Access Copyright.

In January 2012 the University of Toronto and the University of Western struck special deals with Access Copyright agreeing to an interim tariff rate of $27.50. This was met with considerable dismay Critics say universities paying to hyperlink is ludicrous such that the UofT Faculty Association Questions the Access Copyright Agreement.

In April 2012 the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) reached an agreement with Access Copyright agreeing to interim tariff rate of $26. Amazingly this deal was struck secretly, behind closed doors, without communication with AUCC’s own members.

At the end of May 2012 Access Copyright Announces Agreement With the Association of Community Colleges of Canada on a Model Licence for $10 per student.

OK, let me see if I have this right, Access Copyright starts out saying the fee per student will be $35-45. They then negotiate agreements with various organizations for rates of $27.50, $26, and $10. The variation in rates is puzzling. There was no business case explanation for the initial interim tariff fee and there has been no explanation for the reduced fees. On what basis are these rates being set?

These agreements continue to be widely questioned – The Best Possible Outcome for Universities, Really?, Why Universities Should Not Sign the Access Copyright – AUCC Model Licence, A Bad Deal: AUCC/Access Copyright Model License Agreement with many calls for universities not to sign the agreement. Some universities, like the University of British Columbia had taken bolder more principled positions.

While I (and many others) are critical of the way Access Copyright is handling its mandate I want to be perfectly clear that I personally believe writers, artists, musicians and other creators should be fairly compensated for their work. An artists life is frequently one of poverty (aside from the mega hit makers) which I think undervalues their cultural importance. However, I question whether collection agencies like Access Copyright are really serving the needs of creators – a view somewhat substantiated by Brian Brett Speaks Out: An Open Letter on Access Copyright and the Canadian Copyright Emergency. Third party middle men intermediaries seem more intent on funding their own activities over those of the creator. As William Patry notes in his book How to Fix Copyright “The largest problems facing authors today are not unauthorized uses but the obstacles put in the way of buyers willing to pay for access to or copies of the work. I hope this changes as new web-based business models emerge that allow creators to get paid directly.

Passing of New Canadian Copyright Legislation

In June 2012 the Canadian House of Commons passed the Copyright Modernization Act Bill C-11 reforming Canadian copyright law. The new law has a significant impact on education expanding the conditions under which educators can use a copyrighted work without the permission of the copyright holder. Changes in the new act include:

  • Expansion of fair dealing to education, satire and parody. (Am I the only one who finds it deliciously amusing to find education lumped with satire and parody? I”m sure Canadian comedy shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the Rick Mercer Report are pleased at the inclusion of satire and parody). Fair dealing allows educators to use copyrighted works for private study, research, criticism, review, and news reporting. There is no explicit definition of what fair dealing means. Essentially you have to use the Supreme Courts six criteria for evaluating fair dealing – 1. the purpose of the dealing, 2. the character of the dealing, 3. the amount of the dealing, 4. alternatives to the dealing, 5. the nature of the work, and 6. the effect of the dealing on the work. While these six criteria are useful, the lack of a clear definition means that for most educators fair dealing is, and will continue to be, vague and ambiguous.
  • Non-commercial user generated content. The new act distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial use. Non-commercial user generated content gives educators greater liberty to create instructional materials (within the parameters of fair dealing) as long as the use is non-commercial.
  • Internet publicly available materials. This exception gives educators permission to reproduce and communicate works that are publicly available on the Internet. This will be a major relief for educators who are increasingly tapping in to digital web-based content. Under the new act this educational use of publicly available Internet materials is allowed as long as the audience is comprised primarily of students and the works in question are 1. legitimately posted by the copyright holder, 2. not accompanied by a statement prohibiting such reproduction, and 3. not protected by digital locks. This provision makes Access Copyright’s assertion that even a hyperlink is a copy for which users must seek permission seem bizarre.
  • Public performances in schools. The new act allows instructors to display films and other media works in class, provided that the works have been acquired legitimately. This amendment lifts restrictions that required educators to acquire rights for public performance before they could show such materials. Coupled with the Internet publicly available material exception educators will now be free to include videos and other materials from sites like YouTube in their instructional materials.
  • Technology neutral display exception in schools. The old act limited allowable technology reproduction to an overhead projector. The new act is more technologically neutral allowing for display via video projectors and other technological devices.
  • Online transmission of lessons. The new act allows educators to create “fixations” (weird terminology given that a fixation often refers to someone with an obsessive attachment) of lessons and transmit these fixations to students over the Internet. In addition to weird language this exception has some strange requirements that are not particularly in line with pedagogical practice. The institution must destroy the fixation within 30 days after students have received their final course evaluations. And students are to be prevented from reproducing more than a single copy of the lesson for personal use which they too must destroy by the 30-day deadline.

For additional information BCLA has provided a Bill C-11 Guide for Academic Instructors that outlines how the new bill affects education. Michael Geist provides a good summary of the overall outcome including a side-by-side table comparing the old act to the new act The Battle over C-11 Concludes: How Thousands of Canadians Changed The Copyright Debate.

While these changes give educators more permissions and clarity on what is allowed and not allowed I still think the best way to avoid the copyright minefield is to use Creative Commons openly licensed materials whereby the copyright holder explicitly gives permission. Using Creative Commons licensed resources removes the fear of litigation that shrouds copyright.

Canadian Supreme Court Ruling on Copyright Cases

In July 2012, amidst the tumult of copyright deals and reform, the Canadian Supreme Court made rulings on five copyright cases. These rulings were made using the old copyright act not the new one which has yet to come fully in effect. Reading these rulings was a breath of fresh air – clear lucid thinking well argued.

One area of ruling was around the nature of fair dealing. As described above fair dealing lacks a clear concise definition. Sam Trosow does a nice job of analysing pertinent Supreme Court considerations and findings related to fair dealing – see SCC decisions provide clear guidance on fair dealing policies. The ones that stick out for me are:

  • fair dealing is an important users right
  • teachers share a symbiotic purpose with students/users who are engaged in research or private study. Photocopies made by a teacher and provided to students are an essential element in the research and private study undertaken by those students.
  • “Private study” does not mean in solitude or geographically separate from the school. Students in a classroom can be engaged in private study.
  • Research can be piecemeal, informal, exploratory, or confirmatory. It can in fact be undertaken for no purpose except personal interest.

Howard Knopf seems equally proud of the Supreme Courts rulings and provides a comprehensive summary at A Proud and Progressive Pentalogy Day in Canadian Copyright Law.

These Supreme Court rulings affect Access Copyright and the negotiated deals it has struck with various organizations. Clearly those deals are far more restrictive than necessary and in some cases have institutions paying fees for activities they are fully allowed to do under law. Michael Geist provides an interesting take in Why the Supreme Court’s Copyright Decisions Eviscerate Access Copyright’s Business Model.

Who knew that copyright had such high drama! Great potential for a TV series.

In tracking all of these copyright related activities I’ve come to appreciate the increasing involvement of the public and emergence of outspoken voices. I’m particularly thankful for the coverage and analysis the following people have provided:
Michael Geist
Howard Knopf
Sam Trosow
Ariel Katz

Expect I’m not the only one who has learned a lot from these people.

While I admire and appreciate the analysis the above people are providing I’ve been surprised by the lack of coverage of open licensing using Creative Commons licenses as a means of cutting through the complex and often vague rights and permissions of copyright. If educators want to completely free themselves from being encumbered by copyright complications they should use and produce Creative Commons licensed resources instead. Doing so simplifies matters enormously.

As more and more organizations develop copyright guidelines and tools for faculty and staff to use (such as this one at the University of British Columbia I look forward to side-by-side workflow diagrams that compare the process you must go through to ensure you are allowed to use something under copyright vs the work flow process you must go through to ensure you are allowed to use something that is openly licensed via Creative Commons. The copyright workflow will inevitably be comprised of innumerable steps with many if/then branches leading to stop signs or legal counsel interpretations of possible risk. The Creative Commons license workflow will be one step or, in the case of non-commercial and share-alike versions, two or three steps, after which it’s clear sailing with no legal counsel intervention and no risk.

UNESCO Paris OER Declaration

I’m not the only one seeing the potential for open licenses and open educational resources to create new models of education. In June 2012 the World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress took place in Paris, France. Organized by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the World OER Congress brought together Ministers of Education, human resource development representatives, senior policy makers, expert practitioners, researchers, students and others to:

1. Showcase the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts
2. Release a 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs
3. Celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO Forum that created the term OER

UNESCO member States unanimously approved the Paris OER Declaration (pdf).

This Declaration is the result of a yearlong process, led by UNESCO and the COL with regional and online meetings and final negotiations at the Congress. The Declaration recommends UNESCO member States:

a. Foster awareness and use of OER
b. Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
c. Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER
d. Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks
e. Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials
f. Foster strategic alliances for OER
g. Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts
h. Encourage research on OER
i. Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER
j. Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds

Having received unanimous approval it will now be interesting to see how governments, institutions and other organizations adopt policies and practices in support of these goals. This is a whole new business model for education – one that brings with it social and economic benefits.

The Creative Commons Opportunity

Before going to start my new job with Creative Commons I thought I’d map out what I see as the opportunity sectors which are undergoing change through use of open licenses. I tend to think visually and create representations as one page visuals – here is what I came up with (you can click on this to make it bigger if you want):

Essentially I’m seeing activity and new public and business models emerge across:

  • Open Educational Resources
  • Open Access
  • Open User Generated Creative Works
  • Open Data
  • Open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums)
  • Open Government
  • Open Policies, Practices & Guidelines
  • Open Licenses
  • Embedding open license tools (like Creative Commons) in authoring and search engine platforms
  • Open Standards, and
  • Open Source Software

That’s a lot of open. The opportunity is large. Use and impact has only just begun. I’m looking forward to doing my part to grow the commons and by so doing generate global social and economic benefits.

(* 0941176 B.C. Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Creative Commons, the sole activity
of which is to provide services to Creative Commons and is operated separate from the Creative Commons Canada affiliate.)

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.

Video EDU

To keep track of the constantly evolving educational technology space I monitor trends such as those put forward by – New Media Horizons Reports and Tony Bates e-learning outlook for 2011.

I also go with my own gut instinct on what’s happening. One of the biggest general digital trends I’m seeing is around video. Cisco predicts 90% of Internet traffic will come from video by 2013 and in my view digital video is a high impact innovation.

At certain points in time technology innovations make it possible for everyone to do something that was previously only done by a few. Video has gone from a high cost, big production, network and distributor controlled media to a mass market phenomenon that any one can do. Video is now being shot by everyone from children to grandparents. Video is being captured on cell phones, through web cams, downloaded, edited, streamed and uploaded directly to places like YouTube and Video has become ubiquitous.

I have kids, OK well they are grown up adults now living out on their own, but one thing I’ve noticed is that neither of them have TV. Sure they watch movies but YouTube has become the TV replacement. And yet it’s different than TV. YouTube video content is produced as much by amateurs with video cameras and Internet connections as it is by corporate commercial industries. YouTube is a social space where comments, likes, and views are expressed on a global stage. A place where debates over politics, gender and religion take place. YouTube participants affect social change and address global strife in a democratized way not dominated by mainstream media. YouTube is not just a video distribution platform, it’s a form of participatory culture.

So I’ve been wondering:

  • How is video being used for education?
  • What is educationally possible now that simply wasn’t possible before video became so ubiquitous?
  • Are learning activities being designed that have students generating video assignments?
  • How does contemporary video’s active and participatory nature manifest itself in education?

Lots of questions but these provide a good starting point for investigating video’s role in education.

In parallel with these questions I’ve been helping determine the feasibility of BCcampus providing a YouTube-like video shared service for BC’s public post-secondary system. Thought I’d share my discoveries on both fronts through this post.

It will be fascinating to see if contemporary video practices, such as those embodied by YouTube, transition into and make an impact on education. There certainly is lots of interest. At a recent BCcampus hosted gathering to explore interest in a video shared service for BC’s public post secondary system there was a standing room only packed room and at least 10 of BC’s 25 universities and colleges are interested in seeing such a service put in place.

One option for providing video capabilities to BC’s post secondary institutions is to simply acquire access from vendors like YouTube through Software as a service (Saas) cloud computing. However, these services are hosted in the US and the US Patriot Act contravenes BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. (For more on this topic see As a result BCcampus has been exploring establishing a video shared service hosted in BC. In this context Kaltura, the open source video platform has emerged as the product of primary interest.

In defining a video shared service its important to determine the use cases BC universities and colleges are considering. I’ve created a diagram to identify some of the possibilities related to a YouTube like service (click on diagram to make it bigger).

As you can see, the use cases are diverse. Faculty and students can create and embed videos as part of courses in Learning Management Systems, blogs, or wikis. Students could be creating videos associated with clubs, associations, athletics. Researchers could be using video to disseminate results. Information Technology departments could produce short how-to videos that demonstrate how to do various computing activities. Libraries could create and distribute video collections. Marketing departments might be interested in creating video to promote the school or show convocation or recruit students. It may be tempting to simply circle all these and say they are all of interest. On the one hand this is great as it indicates widespread possible use. On the other hand we’ll be asking people to indicate priority. Which of these are the most important, or perhaps even more to the point, which of these uses cases is ready to roll. Where might a pilot start?

Congruent with considering use cases I’ve been looking far and wide at existing examples of video use in education.

Education has for decades used film and videos as media elements for students to view in learning a particular topic. In the digital context these have been characterized as “rich media” elements. The combination of images, moving pictures, animations, music, and audio dialogue or narration create rich multisensory content that engages a range of personal learning styles.

The Internet Archive has lots of old videos available for all of us to not only view, but also cut, copy and remix as footage with video we are creating. It’s fun to see faculty using video in new ways. Here’s the course trailer for EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education, an open graduate course offered at the University of Regina by Alec Couros who seems particularly adept at remixing old to create new.

Moving into more contemporary times I’m seeing a lot of education video produced as “lecture capture”. If you have an interest in the History of Art and from Roman times why not take in Yale Professor Diana E. E. Kleiner’s Roman Architecture lectures.

Yale uploaded the example above to YouTube but if you access the lectures from Yale’s site you’ll see the course is divided up into 22 separate class lecture sessions.These course lectures provide an introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting. The lectures are illustrated with over 1,500 images, many from Professor Kleiner’s personal collection. For each class lecture there is an html transcript, an audio mp3 file, and a choice of Flash or Quicktime based videos.

There are literally thousands of these lecture recordings available from some of the foremost scholars in the world. How fantastic that they share their knowledge in this way! Many big name prestigious institutions use faculty lecture videos as a marketing and promotion activity. Video lecture recordings are also popular here in BC especially with students who missed a lecture on campus or are reviewing material in preparation for tests.

However, lest you think I’m a lecture capture advocate let me fully disclose I’m only a moderate fan of lecture capture educational video. Lectures are an outdated, passive learning experience. In the 21st century we know that education and learning are social and active processes and we have a rich range of pedagogies available to use in learning this way. Despite this, lectures are still a primary mode of education provision as they enable massive throughput of students and require no organizational or cultural change. In the current education system efficiency and status quo trump effectiveness. Lecture capture can be absolutely awful if the scholar is not a dynamic or engaging presenter and if the recording is a full length traditional lecture. Some institutions are installing lecture capture systems and then proclaiming themselves to be meeting the learning needs of a 21st century student. This is utter nonsense.

But still, having access to stellar scholars lecturing is a significant step in making education accessible to all. So how do you find the very best lectures? Who are the dynamic and engaging lecturers people like to watch? Some institutions such as the Yale example I gave above are publishing their videos on their own web site and on YouTube. With more than 13 million hours of video uploaded to YouTube during 2010 and 35 hours of video being uploaded every minute it can be hard to find what you are looking for there so let me provide a little help.

YouTube categorizes video. From the main YouTube site you can search for videos in categories like Entertainment, News & Politics, Sports, and yes Education. Once you are in the Education category area you can choose YouTube EDU to access a further categorization. Within YouTube EDU videos have been categorized by academic domain.

So for example you can choose to look at videos related to Business, Engineering, Fine Arts, Health, History, and Science among others. Once you pick an academic domain of interest videos in that category appear and you can further refine your search by specifying Most Viewed This Month or Most Viewed All Time. Most viewed all time brings the cream to the top. You also have an option to simply type what you are looking for into a Search YouTube EDU bar.

YouTube EDU also has “channels”. Many universities, especially in the United States, have created their own YouTube channel. For example check out the UCBerkeley YouTube channel.

Berkeley uses this channel to promote and market the university. You can make a donation to Berkeley, see their video lectures, and even watch videos of convocation. On the right side of the screen you can search UCBerkeley videos by Date Added, Most Viewed, or Top Rated. Clicking Most Viewed for example brings a video on Integrative Biology to the top which has had over 500,000 views. Clearly this video is popular. (By contrast the Yale Roman Architecture video I used above has had 23,515 views on YouTube). One of the benefits of having your own channel is that it is free of advertising.

One more critique comment about lecture capture video before moving on. Effective use of video in education requires intentionality. With lecture capture video the video part is being treated as an afterthought add on. The primary focus is lecturing the classroom of students in attendance in front of the lecturer. The fact that other viewers will be watching the lecture after the fact has no affect on the lecturer.

So lets turn to an example of educational video use that is very intentional. The most cited (and most viewed) exemplar of educational video these days is the Khan Academy.

Originally started by Sal Khan a s a means of remotely tutoring cousins and family friends on math the Khan Academy now has over 2100 videos. The library of videos covers K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and even areas like finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.

Khan Academy videos are distinctive in a number of ways. The 10-20 minute chunks are especially purposed for viewing on the computer as opposed to being a longer video of a classroom lecture. The videos are not images of Sal Khan talking but rather Sal Khan using a pen-tablet mouse working out math formula or other concepts on a screen while talking to you. Sal Khan uses a conversational style rather than lecture style. He speaks directly to you as if sitting at your side and the concepts he presents are conveyed as they are understood by him not as written in a textbook or specified by a lesson plan. He obviously has a passion for it and it comes through.

Complementing the videos are:

  • a knowledge map that shows all of the concepts being taught and their inter-relationships
  • adaptive assessment exercises that let you practice as your own pace
  • your vital statistics representing at-a-glance information about everything you’ve been learning. There’s even classroom profile data for teachers if they choose to use Khan videos with their class.
  • badges and points representing your learning accomplishments

All-in-all a very impressive site and set of resources. I’ve had people tell me that they struggled with math when they were a child but are now teaching themselves math using the Khan Academy videos as an adult. I highly recommend you watch the Khan Academy Exercise Software video.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention How-to videos too. Want to learn how to tile a floor? Install a door? Build a chicken coop? You can find how-to videos on all of these and virtually anything you can think of at YouTube simply by typing in your search.

There are many who would assert that they’ve learned a lot watching TED: Ideas worth spreading videos.

All this sounds great right? Yes, it is, but thinking about YouTube and video as simply a media distribution platform kind of like television falls way short of the potential. As Jean Burgess and Joshua Green note in their book “YouTube”.

“Consumer co-creation is fundamental to YouTube’s value proposition as well as to its disruptive influence on established media business models.” YouTube is not just a content distribution platform it’s a social network, a community where participants are audiences, producers, editors, distributors, and critics. All YouTube participants have a voice partly expressed through Most Viewed, Most Favourited, Most Responded, and Most Discussed. Its active!

Where are the video use case examples that complement the top-down use of video by institutions and teachers with bottom-up video from students as co-creators not just passive recipients? Well one great example comes from University of Ottawa professor Michael Strangelove who is author of the book “Watching YouTube – extraordinary videos by ordinary people” (a book I highly recommend you all read).

Strangelove teaches a course on Popular Culture and Communication. As part of that course students create video based assignments. Here’s a page of student videos exploring how women are portrayed on TV and in film.

Interestingly these student created works are now required viewing for subsequent students in that course. This is a great example of students as co-creators in education. Alec Couros is doing similar work as shown here with Student Work – Fall 2010.

So what would it take to implement a YouTube-like video service for BC’s public post secondary system? Well as I mentioned at the beginning of this post we’re exploring the potential use of Kaltura. Here is another diagram I produced to support the planning around this (click on it to make it bigger).

This diagram is intended to act as a decision making aid around which core software functions and the many options are important to BC’s public post secondary institutions. A diagram like this helps reveal the full range of functionality and the possibilities. It can aid requirements gathering simply by having people circle the elements that are important to them. You can see from this diagram that implementing your own YouTube hosted service has considerable complexity. At the core platform level depicted at the bottom of the diagram we can see that a YouTube like system involves hosting, storing, a content distribution network, streaming, transcoding, editing, branding/styling, advertising, syndication and analytics. Even at these core level there are options. Moving up to the top there are all kinds of options around integrating it with other applications such as Learning Management Systems, blogging platforms and social media applications.

Video use in education goes beyond YouTube-like video too. Video capabilities of applications like Skype eliminate the clunky, equipment and room-based expensive aspects of traditional video conferencing allowing you to have direct one-on-one voice and video interactions to a mobile device or a computer.

Applicatons like Elluminate provide a means of bringing real time video images of people, places and activities to teaching and learning environments whether they be class-based or online. With an application like Elluminate you can actually record the audio, video, app sharing, chat and all other activities and interactions that take place within it and have it available as a video recording for playback after the fact.

Video streaming of presenters at conferences or other educational events is also becoming increasingly common through services like UStream.

Most of these examples point to a diversification of the means by which we can produce, edit and broadcast video. However, these initial use cases still treat video primarily as a media distribution method. The next big transition around use of video in education will be around the participatory, social networking and active cultural aspects of it. When these begin to emerge the real potency of video as a disruptive innovation in education will begin to be felt.

I know that this is now a long post and if you’re a typical blog reader you’re ready to move on. But for those of you deeply interested in this topic, wanting to know more, I suggest you get yourself comfortable, turn off the TV, and instead watch this Michael Wesch video The Machine is (Changing) Us.

I’m looking for examples of how video is a disruptive innovation in education.
If you have an example let me know by replying to this post.

To our BC public post secondary partners, we look forward to taking the next steps toward a video shared service at the BCcampus video shared service meeting scheduled for April 29, 2011 in Vancouver.

Evolution of an OER Initiative – An Eight Year Retrospective
February 28, 2011, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Open Educational Resources (OER) | Tags: , , , ,

I just recently completed the eighth round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund providing grants to BC public post secondary institution partnerships for development of credit-based open educational resources. A full listing of those awards can be found here on the BCcampus web site.

BCcampus started supporting the development of open educational resources back in 2003 with it’s inaugural Online Program Development Fund. The 2010 call for proposals was the eighth round and brings the total investment made so far to $9 million. Given the burgeoning interest in OER I thought it might be useful to describe this years outcome in the context of an eight year retrospective that summarizes our initiative overall and presents some data on how it has evolved.

Over the years I’ve been contacted by others looking to replicate our program in their jurisdiction. We helped eCampus Alberta establish their Online Course Development Fund and have recently been speaking to folks in Ontario who are interested in seeing something happen there too.


One aspect everyone is interested in is the funding component of our initiative so lets deal with that right up front. The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund is provided annually to BCcampus by the Ministry responsible for higher education. The amount of money allocated has varied each year as follows:

The annual fund has been “one-time” money each year so far which has created challenges around launching the call for proposals on a regularly scheduled basis that is at an opportune time for faculty and staff to devote time to proposal writing. It is my hope going forward that we can get this money established as part of our operating budget so this kind of planning can take place.

Categories, Criteria & Priorities

The amount of money available annually affects the categories and priorities the fund targets. This is an aspect of our initiative I’ve never written about before so let me take some time to describe it. The Online Program Development Fund is announced via a call for proposals that gets distributed to each of the 25 public post secondary institutions in BC. Each year when I write the call for proposals I define categories and priorities for the fund as well as the criteria that must be met. Here’s how it’s evolved over time.

2003 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs
2004 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, open source education technologies, learner online community
2005 Categories: learning objects, courses, complete online programs, best practice dissemination
2006 Categories: courses, reuse
2007 Categories: courses, co-created content, professional development resources
2008 Categories: learning objects, courses, professional learning resources
2009 Categories: learning objects, courses, open textbooks, professional learning resources
2010 Categories: courses, course components

Learning objects are small, stand-alone units of online instruction that can be tagged with descriptors and stored in repositories for reuse in various instructional contexts. They typically are small units of learning (2-15 min at topic level) that are self-contained in such a way that it can be taken independently or grouped into a larger context. The key idea is that they are reusable in multiple contexts for multiple purposes.

I’m sure everyone understands what courses are. In the context of our initiative we’ve expressly specified a preference for fully online credit-based courses. Giving preference to fully online over blended courses, that partially happen online and partially on campus, ensures we maximize accessibility to students all over BC.

For the three years when the fund was $1.5 million we included a category for complete online programs meaning that proposals could request funding to develop all the online courses needed to create a complete online program. Building out a complete credential requires a significant investment so this is only possible when you have a large fund.

In 2004 we introduced the categories of open source education technologies to support development of tools and apps for education and the creation of a online community providing support for online learners. We didn’t get many applications and the inclusion of a tools and technologies category complicated our open licensing approach as you cannot license software in the same way you license educational content. We discontinued these categories.

The best practice dissemination category in 2005 called for proposals that aggregate and disseminate best online learning practices for students and educators and BC public post secondary e-learning research findings. This was an important category acknowledging the growing importance of complementing online learning development and delivery with educator professional development resources on how to effectively do so. To the best of my knowledge the BCcampus OER initiative is the only one that has ever funded development of professional resources for faculty and staff as OER, a practice we continued in subsequent years and a category that is very popular. We called this category professional development one year but were advised to change this name to professional learning as “professional development” was seen to be something governed by collective bargaining agreements on campus. The 2010 OPDF for the first time in several years did not include this category and as a result we received fewer proposals.

The reuse category of 2006 sought proposals that enhance and leverage benefits associated with existing OER based on the right to modify and improve them. Essentially we were wanting to encourage more use of existing OER and thought a category targeting this explicitly might help. We did this again in 2010 but instead of specifying it as a category we made it an overall criteria for all categories by stating in the call for proposals; “Preference will be given to proposals that integrate new online learning resources with previously funded OPDF resources, or other OER from around the world, to construct credentials.” We’re looking to see development of new resources be integrated with existing OER to create course and credential offerings. We are intentionally incentivizing reuse.

The co-created content category of 2007 sought proposals to design and develop credit based online learning resources using social learning applications where faculty and students create online learning content together. We really didn’t get any proposals in this category and dropped it as an idea that may yet gain traction but currently is not a method in use for development of courseware.

In 2009 we included a category for open textbooks which we saw as a new and critically important form of OER. In 2010 we lumped learning objects and open textbooks into the category course components, a simpler more plain English way of expressing what we are looking for.

Each year, the call for proposals includes some overall criteria as well as criteria specific to each category. The following overall criteria have been consistently used every single year:

  • Produce programs which are accessible to all BC students
  • Respond to demonstrated student demand and labour force need
  • Exhibit the characteristics of quality teaching and learning
  • Demonstrate sustainability and cost-effectiveness
  • Include contributions in dollars and/or in-kind from other sources, either internal or external (such as private partnerships)
  • Collaboration between two or more institutions
  • Include clear transfer and articulation mechanisms
  • Agree to license the resources to be freely shared and available for reuse as OER

Specific criteria to each category are also devised to further help those writing proposals be on target. An example from the 2004 call for proposals is “Preference will be given to proposals that build out existing online programs already started but requiring additional courses to be completed.” This “preference will be given” phrasing has been key throughout our initiative in that it keeps the call for proposals open but indicates areas of specific targeted interest.

Given the OPDF funding comes from the Ministry the call for proposals also includes Ministry priorities. In the 2009 call for proposals the Ministry expressed the following areas as priorities – Early Childhood Education; Health-related Programs; Programs aimed at Aboriginal Learners as well as learners with disabilities, mature learners and recent immigrants; Technician and Technologist Programs; Tourism and Hospitality. In 2010 there was a single priority – science.


Evaluation, selection and award of OER grants through are done by independent professional peer review against the criteria and priorities expressed in the call for proposals. Each year I form an eight person evaluation committee made up of seven people with education technology and online learning development experience from across BC’s public post secondary system and one external evaluator. In forming an evaluation committee I try to ensure an equal number of males and females. I try to ensure regional representation of the north, the interior, Vancouver Island and the high density urban area around Vancouver known as the lower mainland. I try to ensure representation of research based universities, teaching universities, colleges and institutes. Its no small task getting the balance right! I ask evaluators to participate for a two year term and stagger their participation so that typically each year half the evaluation committee has experience with the process coming back for their second year and half the committee is new doing it for the first time.

We use an evaluation process I call “progressive consensus”. The first step of this process involves independent evaluation. Each evaluator independently scores a subset of all the proposals. We avoid conflict of interest by ensuring no evaluator scores a proposal they or their institution are involved with. Representatives from the Ministry also review proposals and provide comments which are circulated to the evaluation committee to include in their independent evaluation.

A couple of weeks later we bring all the evaluators together for a two day selection process. On the morning of the first day we pair the evaluators up into two person teams and ask them to reach consensus on the scores they gave for their proposals and rank order the proposals into their top 10. Once they’ve reached consensus each team of two lists their top 10 on a whiteboard for all to see.

We then assemble the entire evaluation team and have each pair present their number one pick and make a recommendation. The rest of the evaluators ask questions leading to discussion and deliberation until the entire evaluation committee reaches a consensus on the decision regarding award. We then move on to the next high ranking proposal and repeat the process as a group. This process moving from independent, to paired, to entire committee evaluation is what I mean by progressive consensus.



A unique aspect of our OER initiative is the emphasis on formation of partnerships. Our OER initiative is focused on funding collaborative development of curricula that benefits all the partners. Institutions form partnerships with each other based on academic program synergy and mutual academic need. Partnering involves pooling expertise and developing an online resource that all partner institutions subsequently use.

While occasionally a grant is awarded to an institution working solo, 83% of the 144 grants we’ve made involve partnerships. Partnerships occur between BC post-secondary institutions and with external partners. The wider the involvement of partners in development and subsequent use, the better.

External partners in our OER development initiatives have included:
– national and international universities
– professional associations
– K-12 school districts and school boards
– e-learning companies
– foundations
– First Nations tribal councils
– health authority’s
– literacy groups,
– and others.

In the 2010 OPDF awards the following are external partners with BC public post secondary institutions; WSÁNEĆ School Board, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Hawaii, School District 91, BC Learning Network, Cool School, The Critical Thinking Consortium, The South Island School District Partnership (SD 61, SD 62, SD 63, SD 64, SD 79), Coast Salish Employment Training Society, Dr. Peter Aids Foundation Centre in Vancouver, Ministry of Health Services, BC Health Authorities, Community Care Facilities Licensing Officers of BC Association, BC Forestry Innovation Investment, Nanjing Forestry University, and Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University

I like to show financial distribution of grants to the BC public post secondary institutions in a way that emphasizes benefits of partnerships. One of the benefits is that all participating institutions in an OER project benefit from all the resources collectively produced. The net value of the project more accurately reflects the benefit they accrue than their individual share of funding. The following chart depicts total net value of grant awards each BC public post secondary institution has participated in over the past eight years (2003-2010). In calculating these totals I take the full amount of each annual OPDF grant and award it to the lead and to each of the partner institutions. So the total reflects net value of grant awards not the individual portion each institution gets. (you can click on this chart and the others in this post to make them bigger)

Here is another chart showing what portion of the total is based on the institution having a lead role and what portion is based on them having a partner role.

Whats fascinating about this chart is the way it reveals the benefits of partnership. In almost every case the funding an institution has participated in as a partner exceeds the funding they have participated in as lead. College of the Rockies (CoTR), one of the smallest institutions in the province, made it into the top 5 beneficiaries of funding almost entirely through partnerships!

Another way I depict partnerships is by tracking which institutions are partnering with each other. Some institutions have few partners. Others partner widely. Some OER projects are undertaken by a consortia group. For example LinkBC received a grant to develop OER related to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. LinkBC is a consortia of 18 of BC’s 25 post secondary institutions working collaboratively on tourism and hospitality programs. I think of the number of partners an institution has as a measure of its collaborativeness. Here’s a chart depicting collaborativeness of each BC public post secondary institution based on the number of institutional partners they’ve had over the eight years of our OER initiative.

As can be seen there is a lot of collaboration. Some of our OER projects involve as many as 10-15 institutions working together on development of online programs that are offered at all participating institutions. Some of the projects even involve development of what we call collaborative academic programs where the institutions share courses, teaching responsibilities, and collectively pool students.

Collaboration and partnerships are one of the biggest outcomes of our OER initiative.


A goal of the BCcampus OER initiative is to increase credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding development of post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources. Credentials in BC’s post-secondary are categorized as follows:

  • Apprentice-Entry Level
  • Associate Degree
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Certificate
  • Citation
  • Diploma
  • Doctoral Degree
  • Grad Cert/Diploma
  • No Credential Granted
  • University Transfer

* Note: This credential categorization is taken from

Credentials are developed through the BCcampus OER initiative in four ways:

  1. A single round of funding allows for development of all the courses required for a complete credential.
  2. A complete credential is built out gradually through multiple rounds of funding.
  3. The OER initiative provides funding needed for development of the last few courses required to make the complete credential online.
  4. The OER initiative creates a number of online courses that can be used across multiple credentials or serve as the building blocks for creating credentials.

Over the eight years the BCcampus OER initiative has contributed to the development of 47 credentials including:

Associate Degree
– Associate of Arts Degree & Associate of Arts Degree in Geography
– Associate of Arts Degree in First Nations Studies
– Web-based Associate of Science

Bachelor’s Degree
– BA Psychology
– Bachelor of Business Administration
– Bachelor of General Studies (Police Studies)
– Bachelor of Tourism Management
– Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
– Bachelor’s Degree with a Marketing Minor
– Classroom and Community Support Program
– Minor in Gerontology
– Northern Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Programme

– Behaviour Intervention Citation

– Administration Assistant Certificate
– Certificate in First Nations Housing Managers Training
– Certificate in Gerontology
– Certificate in Tourism Event Management
– Community Development Certificate program
– Community Care Licensing Officer Certificate
– Common Technology Access Certificate
– Computer Technology Certificate
– Finance for First Nations Housing Managers
– First Nation Shellfish Aquaculture General Management Certificate
– Medical Office Assistant Certificate
– Practical Nursing Online Certificate
– Provincial Legal Administrative Assistant Online Certificate
– Renewable Energy Certificate Program

– Aboriginal Business Administration Diploma
– Aboriginal Community Economic Development Diploma
– Aboriginal Early Childhood Education Diploma
– Access to Dental Hygiene Diploma
– Advanced Diploma in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
– Advanced Diploma in Human Resources
– Animal Health Technology Diploma
– Business Administration General Management Diploma
– Continuing Health Care Administration Diploma
– Diploma in Local Government Management
– Diploma in Public Sector Management
– Diploma of Technology in Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology
– Early Childhood Care and Education Diploma
– First Nations Public Administration Diploma

Graduate Certificate/Diploma
– Graduate Diploma in Public Health
– Graduate Certificate in Child and Youth Mental Health
– Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Gerontology
– Post Bacclaureate Diploma in Marketing
– Post Graduate Technical Diploma in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Master’s Degree
– Masters of Applied Arts

In addition to explicit development of the above credentials some BCcampus OER initiatives develop multi-purpose undergraduate online courses or smaller course components that can be used across multiple courses and credentials.

I’ve also done some analysis to see the distribution of OER grants across academic fields of study. The BC Council on Admissions and Transfer’s Education Planner site categorizes BC’s higher education academic offerings into the following fields of study:

  • Agriculture, Natural Resources and Science
  • Business and Management
  • Communications
  • Computer and Information Services
  • Construction and Precision Production
  • Education and Library Studies
  • Engineering and Electronics
  • Health Related
  • Legal and Social Services
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanical and Related
  • Recreation, Tourism, Hospitality and Service
  • Sciences
  • Transportation (Air, Land, Marine)
  • Upgrading Programs
  • Visual, Performing and Fine Arts

Here is a chart that shows what percentage of the number of OPDF grants have been made to each of these fields of study over the past eight years (click on it to make it larger):

The top three areas of development, health (20%), sciences (17%), and liberal arts and humanities (15%) account for more than 50% of all awards.

Sharing and Reuse

As an OER initiative all grants made through the BCcampus OPDF are for development of online courses and course components that are openly shared and available for reuse by others.

When we first initiated this program eight years ago we decided to change the way IP and copyright were being handled when Ministry funds were provided to post secondary institutions for development of courses. Rather than the Ministry holding Intellectual Property (IP) and copyrights to the resources as was the traditional practice we changed it such that the developer (institution or faculty member) held IP and copyrights. However, we added the requirement that they agree to share.

We initially started out wanting to adopt and use Creative Commons as our license for sharing OER as others like MIT’s OCW and Connexions had done back in 2003. However we met with considerable resistance from our developers who feared loss of control and competition. In the end we held on to the requirement to share but created a BC Commons license as an alternative option to Creative Commons. So starting in 2003 and continuing on to today the BCcampus OER initiative gives developers the choice of Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses. Developers wanting to participate in the global OER movement can go with Creative Commons. Alternatively they can choose the BC Commons license which provides for open sharing locally at the provincial level. I like to think of these as global sharing vs. local sharing options. Full description of our approach and the Creative Commons and BC Commons licenses we use can be found at

The BCcampus OER initiative is one of the few that gives developers a choice in how they license their resources for sharing. A question I’m frequently asked is when given a choice how many people choose Creative Commons and how many choose BC Commons? Here’s a chart showing license choices from 2003-2009. (Developers associated with the 2010 awards haven’t yet made their license choice).

As can be seen from this chart the majority of developers in our OER initiative have chosen the BC Commons license vs the Creative Commons license. Overall 66% have chosen BC Commons and 34% have chosen Creative Commons.

Doing a retrospective like this helps unearth anomalies. When you look at the above chart 2008 jumps out as being unusual. That year 16 developers chose Creative Commons and 4 chose BC Commons. I wondered why that year was different? It’s hard to say exactly but I went back to the 2008 call for proposals and see that I explicitly listed benefits associated with OER that year right in the call for proposals. I said:

The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund emphasizes open sharing of resources. This approach is congruent with other similar initiatives around the world including OpenCourseWare, Connexions, WikiEducator and others. The Online Program Development Fund has two license options one for BC Commons, which creates shareable resources among BC’s public post secondary institutions, and one for Creative Commons, which provides a mechanism for participating in global Open Educational Resource initiatives. In 2008 Capilano College joined the global Open Educational Resource movement as the first Canadian institution to become a partner in the OpenCourseWare consortium.

Benefits associated with Open Educational Resources are:

1. Social benefits
Higher education sharing knowledge for the benefit of all is an altruistic public service. Sharing boosts human capital through better education and skills by providing access to resources that encourage participation in higher education. Open resources accessible to all bridge the gap between informal and formal learning, and promote lifelong learning. Open resources widen access and provide supply where there is shortage.

2. Economical benefits
By sharing and reusing, the costs for content development can be cut, thereby making better use of available resources. Leverage taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse of resources developed by publicly funded institutions. Eliminates the weeks and months of time it can take to seek permission to use existing digital materials. Educators can use the asset immediately without having to go through a permission seeking process. Leverages a unique aspect of digital assets – the marginal cost and effort in making copies and distributing online learning resources over a network.

3. Quality improvements
Quality improves over time, compared to a situation in which everyone always has to start anew. Creates a web-based, viewable, useable record of quality educational materials. Allowing others to reuse and modify original work provides a means for continuous improvement of online learning resources by a collective of professional peers. Shifts emphasis from content to teaching and learning process and services involved with using content.

4. Collaboration and Partnerships
Creates opportunity for faculty to see, collaborate on, and reuse each others work. Provides a reputation boost to faculty whose materials are widely used.

5. Academic Planning
Helps students make academic plans, be better prepared, and pursue learning of personal interest.

6. Public Relations and Advertising
Good for public relations and functions as a showcase to attract new students. Acts as advertisement for the institution, and as a way of lowering the threshold for new students, who may be more likely to enroll – and therefore pay for tutoring and accreditation – when they have had a taste of the learning on offer through open content. Increased contact with alumni.

These benefits are maximized through global Open Educational Resource initiatives that produce resources open to educators, students and the public.

It looks like explicitly spelling out benefits like this encourages developers to choose Creative Commons. I’ll have to list these benefits again in future calls for proposals. BCcampus believes that the Creative Commons license choice brings with it the greatest benefits. We encourage developers who initially chose BC Commons to migrate to Creative Commons at any time.

Let me illustrate some of the benefits of going Creative Commons with a couple of examples. For several years now the BCcampus OER initiative has been funding the development of a Web-based Associate of Science degree which has licensed all its development work using Creative Commons. Through three separate grants this initiative has been building out year one science courses for biology, physics, chemistry, and geology. They’ve met the major challenge of supporting the labs for these courses by building a remote web-based science lab that allows students to conduct real experiments over the Internet through remote control of instrumentation. Because this work is licensed through Creative Commons it has led to the formation of a partnership with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and the Colorado Community College System producing a Bill and Melinda Gates Next Generation Learning proposal for replicating and scaling up this work in the US and collaborating on the creation of a North American Network of Science Labs Online. The proposal was selected as one of 50 finalists out of 600 applications received. The Creative Commons license makes it possible to partner and grow the initiative beyond the borders of BC.

Here’s a picture of what a student might see during use of the remote web-based lab:

If you’d like to learn more visit their web site at

Another example involves the development of three inter-related virtual soil online resources – Virtual Soil Forming Processes, Virtual Soil Identification & Classification, and Soil Parent Material and Landscape Development, all of which were licensed with Creative Commons. In July 2010 the developers sent us a summary list of Canadian and non-Canadian universities that use these resources showing use at 16 different universities and colleges across Canada, United States and Europe and use with at least 1500 students. The developers of these resources just recently launched the Canadian Soil Web Collaborative.

As part of the application process we now ask those submitting proposals to list the OER from previous rounds of the OPDF or from other OER initiatives that their development will be making use of. To give you an example of the kind of reuse of OER we are starting to see the 2010 Collaborative Mining and Mineral Exploration Technology Program proposal listed the following as OER they intend to reuse:

  • Geology 105 – Introduction to Geology (Lab and Theory) – BCcampus OER
  • Geology 106 – Introduction to Physical and Historical Geology (Lab) – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 1: Introduction to applied geophysics – seeing the earth’s subsurface – BCcampus OER
  • Aglo 2a: Seven steps to applying geophysics – BCcampus OER
  • Structure of Earth Materials – MIT OER

I’m really heartened by this.
The BCcampus OER are all available from our Shareable Online Learning Resources repository.

Thanks for joining me on this eight year retrospective of BCcampus’ OER initiative. It has been a fascinating journey and I have a feeling its only just begun. I’d like to thank all the developers who have been involved in our projects over the years. Your work is an inspiration. I’m thrilled to see BC developed OER attracting international interest and generating networks of partners collaborating on OER curricula across BC and beyond.

Foundation Funded OER vs. Tax Payer Funded OER – A Tale of Two Mandates

This post is an expanded version of a paper I’m formally giving at the Open Education Conference in Barcelona November 2-4, 2010. Since submitting the paper back in September there have been several new announcements related to Foundation support for OER that I’ve included here in the blog but are not in the original paper. The conference paper has a prescribed word count so the original abbreviated version of this paper will be published in the conference proceedings. This is a hybrid paper in that I’ve kept the APA style references of the original paper but  also created links that allow for further exploration when read online. I plan to use this blog post to support the actual presentation at the Open Education Conference so I’ve added visuals for that purpose.

I’m publishing it early with the aim of getting some feedback and suggestions that I can incorporate into the actual conference presentation. If you are planning on attending the conference I hope this sneak preview stimulates your interest and makes you want to attend my session. Attendees at the session are invited to use their laptop to follow along and explore the many links provided while I’m presenting. If you aren’t attending the conference let me know your thoughts by posting comments and I’ll incorporate them into the presentation.


Most well known OER initiatives such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare or Rice University’s Connexions have been funded by foundations such as Hewlett, Mellon, and Gates. Foundation funding has been an essential component of establishing the OER field. However, foundation funding cannot be relied on for ongoing development and operations. Many OER initiatives are struggling to establish and transition to a future independent of foundation funding. A common and critical challenge is planning for and ensuring sustainability. (Baraniuk, 2008)

OER have now been in development and use since 2002. On the technology adoption lifecycle curve (Rogers, 1983) we’d say OER have come through the innovation phase, are striving for adoption, and aspire to cross into early majority.


To the extent that OER are a disruptive innovation we can also consider Geoffrey Moore’s variation of this model that depicts a chasm between the early adoption and early majority phase. Many disruptive technology innovations do not successfully cross the chasm and simply disappear (Moore, 1991).

Will this be the fate of OER?

OER need sustainable business models and most importantly sustaining funding. One way to think about OER funding is to map it to a traditional start-up financing cycle of investment.


The cycle of investment starts with seed funding provided by what the field refers to as friends, family and fools (FFF). Seed funding is usually a small amount required to kick start the effort. In the context of OER seed funding is the money put up by the institutions and organizations starting OER initiatives. As the development progresses a second round of funding is often sought in the form of angel investment. Angel investors typically invest their own capital to finance a ventures need. Angel investment is high risk. A large percentage of angel investments are lost completely when early stage ventures fail in the “valley of death”. Foundations have played the angel investment role for OER. Angel investment is high risk and short term. Angel capital fills the gap between friends and family and third stage funding where venture capital, banks, or initial public offering kick in.

Venture capital, bank, or IPO private investments are unlikely options for OER but the sustained funding need is real. A variety of funding models for OER have been proposed including:

  • endowment
  • membership
  • donations
  • conversion
  • contributor-pay
  • sponsorship
  • institutional
  • governmental
  • partnerships and exchanges
    (Downes, 2007)

In a public post secondary institution context traditional sources of funding are:

  • public grant funding from taxes
  • individual donations
  • organizational donations
  • advertising
  • fees for products or services
    (Lane, 2008)

One strategy for sustaining OER developments as they transition from early innovation to mainstream is for government and tax-payer public funding to take over from the early stage funding foundations have provided.

This paper examines some of the factors affecting the growth and sustainability of OER. It compares and contrasts foundation and government publicly funded OER initiatives in terms of global vs. local goals, licensing options, use cases, and outcomes. Emerging from this comparison are strategies and tactics that position OER for public funding, ongoing adoption, and a long-term sustainable future.

Foundation Funded OER

The OER movement has been dominated by foundation funding. The Hewlett Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and more recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been priming the OER pump with grants.

These foundations each have distinct identities and philanthropic mandates that shape the programs and conditions by which OER funding is provided. Funding awards are not provided in a no-strings-attached fashion. Foundation grants are awarded to initiatives that support the goals of the foundation.

If OER are going to transition to public funding its worth looking at foundation mandates and goals and thinking about the extent to which they match up with public funder mandates and goals.

Hewlett Foundation

The Hewlett Foundation based in Menlo Park CA makes grants to solve social and environmental problems in the US and around the world. The Hewlett Foundation, along with the Mellon Foundation, was the first to support OER, has provided large grants on an ongoing basis, and continues to play an active role. Of all foundations Hewlett is by far the most influential and largest investor in the OER field.

Hewlett has funded most of the major, well-known OER initiatives including:

The Hewlett Foundation’s OER goal is to:
“Equalize access to knowledge for teachers and students around the globe through Open Educational Resources.”
(Hewlett, 2010).

Mellon Foundation

The Mellon Foundation’s mandate and goals are largely around supporting higher education and the humanities including research libraries, centres for advanced study, art museums and art conservation, and the performing arts. (Mellon, 2004 pp. 9)

The Mellon Foundation’s role in open education has primarily been through awarding grants for initiatives that benefit teaching and learning through the collaborative development of open-source software. In the larger educational context that includes software such as uPortal, Kuali and Sakai. From an OER perspective Mellon’s focus has been on mass digitization of content in libraries and building archives and sharing content across institutions rather than supporting initiatives to develop open course content. But Mellon has partnered with other foundations to co-invest in large OER initiatives such as MIT’s OCW.

Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation’s goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. (Ford, 2010) The Ford Foundation has supported OER as part of the Partnership of Higher Education in Africa and IKSME’s OER ArtsCollab which is engaging teachers, learners, and practitioners in the collaborative development and use of OER in the arts and social justice.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes grants in global development, global health and the United States. The Gates Foundation is supporting OER as a disruptive innovation. The Foundation’s Technology in Post Secondary Success background paper states; “We will make investments to test whether community-developed and openly distributed course materials, platforms and technologies can effectively disrupt traditional teaching methods and increase student engagement.” (Gates, 2010a)

In Oct. 2009 Gates made a $5.3 million investment in the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. (Gates, 2010b) Of that total $1.8 million is going to the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges for an Open Course Library initiative developing 81 high enrolment courses as OER.

In Oct. 2010 the Gates Foundation announced plans to spend up to $20 million on the first phase of a Next Generation Learning program that could become as much as $80 million over the next four years. Open courseware is one of four areas being targeted for the first wave of grants. Open courseware for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success is of particular interest.

In the OER context foundations like Hewlett, Mellon, Ford and Gates are angel investors supporting OER initiatives at a scale and with a volume of financing significantly beyond the start-up seed funding of OER initiators. Most foundations have global and humanitarian mandates and goals.

Foundation Funded OER Initiative Goals

We’ve looked at the goals of foundations lets now look at specific foundation funded OER initiatives and see to what extent their goals match those of their funding foundation.


Advance education around the world by publishing MIT courses as a public good for the benefit of all. (Hockfield, 2010)

Rice University Connexions

Connexions has two primary goals:

  1. to convey the interconnected nature of knowledge across disciplines, courses, and curricula
  2. to move away from solitary authoring, publishing, and learning process to one based on connecting people into global learning communities that share knowledge.

(Baraniuk, 2008, pp. 233)

UK Open University’s OpenLearn

To make some of The Open University’s distance learning materials freely accessible in an international web-based open content environment and, in so doing, to advance open content delivery method technologies by:

  • deploying leading-edge learning management tools for learner support
  • encouraging the creation of non-formal collaborative learning communities
  • enhance international research-based knowledge about modern pedagogies for higher education

(Lane, 2008, pp. 156)

Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative

The OLI initiative is a research-based approach to OER. The fundamental goal of OLI is to develop Web-based learning environments that are the complete enactment of instruction. This includes developing better resources and practices, cycles of evaluation and improvement, and advancing fundamental understanding of learning. (Thille, 2008, pp. 167)

A second major goal of the OLI is to provide access to high quality postsecondary courses (similar to those taught at Carnegie Mellon) to learners who cannot attend such institutions. (Thille, 2008 pp. 175) To support this OLI’s website provides free online courses and course materials that enact instruction for an entire course.

Open Yale Courses

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to recorded lectures of a selection of introductory courses taught by faculty at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. Registration is not required and no course credit is available.
(Yale, 2010)

Goals like “advance education around the world”, “publish courses as a public good” “connect people into global learning communities” and “expand access for all who wish to learn” align well with Foundation goals. But do they align well with government publicly funded education goals?

Publicly Funded OER

Government public funding of OER has not been as widely featured in the OER field as foundation funded OER initiatives. The authors own BCcampus initiative in Canada is one example, but a quick scan of the most highly cited OER initiatives shows just how dominating foundation OER have been. During the drafting of this paper the author contacted several leaders in the OER field and asked them to identify OER initiatives that are funded by public taxpayer dollars at the state, province or national level. The initiatives that emerged in response are:

For apples to apples comparative purposes the author has chosen initiatives focused on higher education open content as opposed to open educational practices, open source software, or other aspects of the field.

Lets look at the goals of publicly funded OER initiatives.

BCcampus OER

Funded through an annual Online Program Development Fund provided by the Ministry of Advanced Education the BCcampus OER goals are to increase credential opportunities available to students throughout the province by funding multi-institutional partnerships for the development of shared credit-based post-secondary online courses, programs, and resources.

BCcampus OER goals translate into three metrics:

  • partnerships
  • credentials
  • sharing & reuse

(BCcampus, 2010)

Southern Regional Education Board SCORE

Funded by the Southern Regional Education Board the goals of SCORE are to improve teaching and learning and achieve cost savings through a multistate K-12 and higher education initiative to share digital learning course content among colleges, universities and schools in SREB states. SCORE:

  • establishes school and college relationships to create, license and provide high-quality content
  • provides cost-effective learning resources for K-20 by sharing development costs among states and commercial companies
  • reduces duplication of effort
  • increases faculty and student productivity
  • adheres to e-learning standards

(SREB, 2010)

AEShareNet & edna

AEShareNet is a collaborative system in Australia established by the Australian Ministers of Education and Training to streamline the licensing of intellectual property so that Australian learning materials are developed, shared, and adapted efficiently. It plays an intermediary role between developers and users and in particular facilitates the transfer of educational resources between educational institutions. Its goal is to provide a process and online system that is streamlined, avoids duplication and increases efficiency. (OECD CERI, 2006 pp. 3-4) AEShareNet and other licensed educational resources are distributed through edna’s repository.


Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, the objective of the New Zealand Open Educational Resources project is to develop courseware that will be freely available to all tertiary education institutions in New Zealand. Reduction in the duplication of investment is a primary goal, but without risking the pluralism of ideas and innovation that underpin a vibrant education sector. (New Zealand OER, 2010)


The UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded the JORUM initiative which put in place a repository for content UK higher education institutions wished to share. More recently JISC launched an OER content initiative to support the open release of existing learning resources for free use and repurposing worldwide. JISC OER will use JORUM as one of the vehicles for sharing.

The goals of JORUM are to enable the sharing, reuse and repurposing of learning and teaching resources through an online, repository service that supports policy, practice and productivity in learning and teaching in the UK and beyond. (JORUM, 2010)

The goals of JISC’s OER program are to explore the sustainability of long-term open resources release via the adoption of appropriate business models. Supporting actions may include modifications to institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources release an expected part of the educational resources creation cycle. JISC’s OER program is expected to build the capacity of the sector for sustainable OER release, generate better understanding of OER reuse, and make OER easier to find and use. (JISC OER, 2010)


The Netherlands wikiwijs OER initiative goals include:

  • stimulating development and use of OER
  • creating options for specialized and customized education
  • increasing quality of education through more flexible and up-to-date materials
  • improving access to both open and ‘closed’ digital learning materials
  • reducing time to find and find resources that are quality and fit curriculum
  • increasing teacher involvement in development and use of OER

(Schuwer, 2010)

Goals like “increasing credential opportunities available to students throughout the province“, “establish school and college relationships” “develop courseware freely available to tertiary institutions in New Zealand” and “expand access to both open and closed digital learning resources” align well with government public funding goals.

Government publicly funded OER have local goals that serve citizen education access and credential needs.

OER Licensing

One way OER goals are being achieved is through use of licenses. The diagram below shows an OER licensing continuum. At the far left of the continuum is full copyright all rights reserved. At the far right end of the continuum is public domain no rights reserved. Licensing options are increasingly open as you move from left to right along the continuum.

Foundation funded OER do not involve license options. Instead a single Creative Commons license is used with the majority of initiatives going with Attribution or Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike.

In contrast publicly funded OER often involve license options along an open continuum. The authors own BCcampus OER initiative gives developers of OER a choice between local sharing within the province of BC through a BC Commons license or global sharing using Creative Commons. JISC’s JORUM initiative has followed a similar path and Australia’s AEShareNet uses an even more refined approach.

Recent publicly funded OER initiatives such as JISC’s OER and Netherlands Wikiwijs are being more explicit about dictating use of Creative Commons. But they still reference and acknowledge a need to support more closed resources. Lack of knowledge and fears around intellectual property, copyright infringement, quality and competitive advantage are still barriers to mainstream adoption and use of Creative Commons only.

It’s interesting to note that no OER initiatives are fully open. None are placing resources directly into the public domain.

OER Use Cases & Outcomes

Foundation OER initiatives mentioned in this paper primarily see OER as an act of publishing content and a form of public philanthropy. Use cases include:

  • marketing promotion of the institutions formal for-credit offerings (Wiley, 2010)
  • informal non-credit autonomous self-paced study (Lerman, 2008 p. 216)
  • academic planning for students enrolled at institution (Lerman, 2008 p. 222)
  • international distribution and translation, especially in developing countries (Lerman, 2008 pp 215 & 224)
  • assembly of OER into print-on-demand textbooks (Baraniuk, 2009, p. 2)

Foundation funded OER are typically housed on a destination web site or use custom built software resulting in controlled access and use. Most resources are not optimized for online delivery independent of the OER site. Despite the OER license used by many of these initiatives downloads are often not editable or modifiable given their fixed file formats such as .pdf.

Foundation funded OER initiatives are often more oriented to informal non-credit learning for students than to teachers. MIT is explicit in stating OCW, is not an MIT education, does not grant degrees or certificates, and does not provide access to MIT faculty. Initiatives like Carnegie Mellon’s OLI require instructors to ask permission for an account and even then use of the OLI OER must be done through Carnegie Mellon’s OLI technology rather than the instructor’s own institutions applications. As part of its sustainability strategy Carnegie Mellon’s OLI use by instructors even has fees.

The primary use case of publicly funded OER is for formal credit-based academic offerings rather than informal study by students. Publicly funded OER are often a form of curriculum development providing faculty with resources to use in their courses or in development of new for-credit offerings.

Publicly funded OER are typically housed in a repository which provides an access and distribution role but not usually a creation or course delivery role. OER are uploaded, searched for, and previewed on the repository but usually downloaded for use independent of the repository through an institutions own learning management system or other educational technology.


Comparing and contrasting foundation with government publicly funded OER initiatives reveals commonalities, differences, and a diversity of approaches.

OER goals/mandates, licenses, and use cases can be strategically situated within an overarching OER framework (Stacey 2006)

This framework can be used to define and refine strategy and tactics associated with any OER initiative. It can also be used as a basis for comparing and contrasting OER initiatives. As an example the following table highlights differences between the BCcampus OER initiative and MIT’s OCW initiative.

As shown in this table the publicly funded BCcampus OER initiative has focused on developing new online learning resources through system partnerships and collaboration. The content produced is primarily intended for faculty use in formal for-credit education offerings delivered via their institutions learning management system. The primary mandate for open sharing within the jurisdiction of the public funder is enabled through a BC Commons open license and global participation supported as a choice of the developer through a Creative Commons license.

In contrast the foundation funded MIT OCW OER initiative has focused on publishing a single prestigious institution’s existing lectures, course notes, and learning activities associated with campus-based classroom activity. These resources are freely provided as a public good for use primarily in informal non-credit learning. The foundation funded OER meets global philanthropic goals by mandating a single Creative Commons license but requires users to access the OER through MIT’s technologies.

Emerging from the comparisons made in this paper the following strategies and tactics position OER for public funding, ongoing adoption, and a long-term sustainable future:

  • ensure OER initiative goals fulfil public funder education access and credential needs first before serving global needs
  • establish OER development initiatives as multi-institutional partnerships with each institution using the developed resource in for-credit offerings right from the start
  • use OER development as a means of generating collaborations between institutions
  • incentivize use of OER from initiatives around the world in OER development and for-credit offerings of institutions
  • offer a range of OER licensing options along the open continuum
  • provide cost efficiencies and reduction of duplication by aggregating and distributing quality OER as a service
  • ensure OER have a form factor that is modifiable
  • support download and autonomous use of OER by institutions using their own technology especially learning management systems
  • look for ways to make OER creation and use part of regular operational academic practice


Baraniuk, Richard G. (2008). Challenges and Opportunities for the Open Education Movement: A Connexions Case Study. In T. Iiyoshi and M. S. V. Kumar (Eds.)
Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, pp. 232. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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The 8th Annual BCcampus Online Program Development Fund – building OER through partnerships

Yesterday I announced the 8th annual round of the BCcampus Online Program Development Fund Open Educational Resource (OER) initiative through a call for proposals to BC’s public post secondary institutions.

Launching the fund each year is a major undertaking and one of the highlights of my year each time it occurs. I’m particularly excited about a couple of things that are receiving special emphasis in this years call. Here are my top two highlights:

  • This years fund is very focused on supporting development of OER through multi-institutional partnerships that produce for-credit OER leading to a credential. We’ve mapped the OER coming out of our earlier rounds of funding to the credential, field of study and subject area classification scheme used for BC’s public post secondary system. Proposals this year are being asked to map against the same schema and provide information on expected enrolments.
  • This years fund is giving preference to proposals that incorporate the use of existing OER, either from previous rounds of our fund or from other OER initiatives around the world, into their proposal. In other words we’re looking to see development of new resources be integrated with existing OER to create course and credential offerings. We are intentionally incentivizing reuse. I’m hoping this will be precedent setting in terms of what we see come forward in proposals and as a model and approach Foundations and other OER initiatives around the world adopt. To the best of my knowledge no other OER initiative has tried to do this.

In parallel with the announcement we launched some new and improved sites:

  • The BCcampus Online Program Development Fund OER workspace wiki was launched to provide a comprehensive source of information about the current call for proposals as well as providing historical information about the previous seven rounds.
  • OPDF OER reports by year, by institution, and by field of study are now available to support searching the awards made in the first seven rounds 2003-2009. See the 2003-2009 OPDF History page of the workspace wiki to try them out.
  • A new BC Commons web site was launched to provide a place where developers can learn about and access the licenses we are using for our OER.
  • A revamped BCcampus Shareable Online Learning Resources (SOL*R) repository has been launched to support the review, revision, remix and redistribution of our OER. A huge thanks go out to Scott Leslie and Victor Chen for their work on this new version of the site. I’m especially keen about all the additional academic context the repository is now providing for the resources and the availability of a single record for each project that provides access to all the resources that project developed.

At the end of the day on Tuesday I gave a webinar titled “OERder out of Chaos – creating credentials with OER” as part of the Open Education Resource Foundation Open Access Week series of webinars. Recordings of this webinar and the other excellent ones happening during this week are all available from their web site.

Phew, thats enough for now. Lots of activity.

I’m especially hopeful that OER are reaching a tipping point in terms of acceptance, that we’ll see lots of partnerships form around OER development, and that we’ll have an incredibly impressive set of proposals submitted in response to this years call.

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