Friday, 18 July 2014

OERs and the Open School in a Box project

Above: Logo of the OER conference in Berlin (September 2013) by Grafik: Markus Büsges, leomaria (Wikimedia Deutschland e.V.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Using Open Educational Resources to engage learners

One of the aims of the Open School in a Box project funded through the Nominet Trust is to explore how Open Educational Resources (OERs) can be used alongside structured NEC course materials. The aim is to provide interesting and fulfilling learner journeys through digital IGCSE English Language and Maths Foundation courses available through a wifi hotspot on any enable handheld device.

In this blog, Sally Dawson from the Open School in a Box development team explores how OERs are being used.

What is an OER?

OER stands for Open Education Resources, and they are what they suggest, openly available, educational resources, usually digital and often multi-modal in nature.

They can include e-books, readings, videos and quizzes – virtually anything that can be created in a digital format, and then shared with others. They have been a significant development in the last ten years or so, and have transformed teaching and learning by providing the education community with shareable content that can often be repurposed, promoting collaboration and sharing. OERs can be as much as a whole course, or as little as one image, but share the same characteristics of low or no cost to the developer.

MOOCs as OERs… and the future

Most people will have heard of MOOCs by now – Massive Open Online Courses, a huge worldwide initiative building open courses which are freely available to all, usually with no charge to the learner, but equally no routine accreditation when completed. Critics say the huge numbers that drop out show that they don’t really work, however it’s worth noting the sensible observation that: “The more open the system, not necessarily in terms of entry-level qualifications, the more likely a high program-level dropout rate.” (Powell, 2009).

Here’s an example of a MOOC:
Copyright and licences

So far so good, but resources are rarely provided without some kind of attached licence. Many of you will have seen Creative Commons licence attribution underneath a video, or with a picture on Flickr.  Many individuals and groups allow content to be re-used (but possibly not repurposed) under these licenses, which offer the creator a variety of choices in controlling use of their work – often all the creator wants is to be credited.

Some of this content of course would be useful for Open School in a Box so that’s what we have been researching.

Downloading and embedding content

However, most users of OERs do not need to download them as we need to do for the Open School in a Box, and many creators aren’t happy with this idea. Embedding is quite a different thing, of course. Take YouTube, for example. Click on most videos and expand the section underneath which says ‘more’ and most will say they have the standard YouTube Licence’. This means, while you can embed the video on your own site, you must not download it without the owner’s permission. Largely, the reason why there’s not a problem with embedding a resource (as opposed to downloading it) on your own course, webpage or blog, is because the author’s right and ability to remove or amend it whenever they wish remains.

Specific OSB issues

It’s been a steep learning curve for us creating Open School in a Box content using OERs. The material can’t be embedded in the Box content because it isn’t ‘on’ the internet – the Open School in a Box is a mobile hotspot that has on it what has been pre-loaded, a local connection accessible by those within range.

Considering this, we still have so many requirements. Firstly, we are looking at low or no cost so that all available resources are channelled into the important business of creating course content. Secondly the material must be absolutely relevant to the specific level and part of the course we are creating, ensuring it is meaningful within a course context, and if possible we need to be able to contextualise it. Lastly, it must look good and be legible (or audible) on a variety of handheld devices which we anticipate learners using.

All pedagogical principles apply – nothing must be used unless it has a sound reason to be there, and enhances that specific part of the course.

Contextualising resources

Let’s take an example. Some excellent videos do encourage and allow downloading, but we still need to take great care that those we use are appropriate as they are, if we are not able to adapt them. If they are American, the terminology might be different (which might be a barrier for some less confident learners), and also each video we use needs to fit pretty exactly with the part of the course and syllabus to which we’ve linked it (if you recall, Maths and English IGCSE at present). If it doesn’t do that, then it really can’t help the learner. Some do exactly meet our requirements as they stand, but not all.

We have a number of audio clips and e-books sourced from literature in the public domain (i.e. probably no longer in copyright) which can in general be used freely.  A famous example of these is those that can be found at Project Gutenberg, a great example of a very large OER which we have added on the Open School in a Box. The Box also holds a school approved version of Wikipedia, of approximately 20,000 pages. (Every page has been reviewed by a teacher and approved for use). Finally we have a copy of Khan Academy lite, a set of more than 2,000 videos that have a main focus on mathematics taking learners from 1+1 through to higher maths.


So what other options do we have?

We need to do a lot of searching! Sometimes we ask for and record permission if we can contact the author, where their wishes are not clear. We can also make our own resources and videos – there are plenty of tools out there such as Prezi (a good alternative to PowerPoint) and Screen-Cast-O’Matic, to name just two, which will allow us to create our own animated resources.

The Open School in a Box project allows us so many opportunities to reach new learners who for a variety of reasons aren’t able to access the internet, so we need to ensure that we meet their needs in the best possible way we can. We are seeing the issues described above as exciting challenges, and are learning and sharing as we go. Watch this space!

Make sure you follow NEC on social networks because we’ll post updates and other information here. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, where we’ll be using the hashtag #outsidethebox.

For more information about NEC’s work or to view our full range of flexible distance learning courses, visit our website or get in touch.

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