Open Education Global: Increasing Impact for All

It was not my first Open Education Global conference, because when it was held in Delft (during my TU Delft Library time), in 2018, I attended a few sessions, but this was the first time I attended the full conference, three days, in Nantes, France. Of course it was great to really have time to meet and talk with people again, but also to get into depth with a topic that is close to my heart.

Much of the conference is made available on OE Global Connect. Is it new to talk about Open Educational Resources and Open Education? No, there are so many repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER) established, institutes working on it and policies in place; also UNESCO has its recommendations, and in The Netherlands we have our own declaration (I could not find an English version). As we did with Open Access, however, we would like to make a big step, because the total amount of educational material that is open is still low. How to really realize change at the heart of the matter?

In this blog I picked a few presentations, not because the rest was not interesting, but just because I want to make my summary not that long, and I want to focus on a few take-aways that were useful for me. But are these the longed-for big step? I am afraid not.

Focus a bit more on the learners

  • Dr Sian Proctor had an extraordinary story. In just writing this down I will not honour her enthusiasm and passion, so here is a link to her contest video to be one of the four citizens selected to go into space. She invited us to try to bottle “earthlight”. If we do this we can help people to “create” based or from their own desire, we can transform students from consumers to creators of knowledge and empower them to make their own choices. In another talk named “The Liberated Learner” (by Joanne Kehoe) there was hands-on practice or evidence how to do this. This project has four modules: The Learner, The Navigator, The Collaborator, and The Technologist. As said in the blurp for their book: “Taken together, the modules aim to enable a well-rounded and ready-for-almost-anything post-secondary learner. For Learners. By Learners.”
  • My own observation > Sometimes we might be focusing too much on the “reuse & remix” angle. If we want our education to be open for other users, the “use” part is an important driver. Are we not too focused on getting the right and “best” creative commons license, which, mind you, I understand we need to ask for and emphasize, but are we by the complexity of it perhaps missing interesting content for these users?

Get open as a (key) by-product, not as your main driver, and listen to what teachers ask and need

  • My former colleague @TUDelftLibrary, Michiel de Jong, knows how it works. As he told us we should find the right reason to support faculty, e.g. because students do not buy textbooks anymore (too expensive), and in our educational practice we would like students to take ownership and teachers to be recognized for their effort to create sustainable courses. In supporting this, making the textbook or material open will follow, and is not per se the driver or main reason to act. Grasple, an e-learning platform, was mentioned in another talk by Elisabeth Schmoutziguer, and she referred to mathematical courses of both TU Delft and University of Twente, where especially the interaction between the teaching staff of the two universities, was key in making this a great success.
  • What for sure will help is if we could show that student retention will improve due to using Open Educational Resources, just like it helped Open Access in showing that research articles published in Open Access are higher cited than those in traditional subscription journals. This was referred to in the talk about policies. I have found a few studies where student retention is being investigated and that having access to primary course materials has a positive effect on it (I could not verify the papers at the time of writing this blog, so I will leave out the references).
  • My own observation > Being close to faculty helps here, so team up in the team science groups (that could consist of both research and teaching staff, supported by data scientists, technicians, learning specialists; the principle of team science has been launched in The Netherlands in the Position Paper on Recognition & Rewarding, published in 2019). And in the case of our university, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, see what open adds when moving to active blended learning, not as a separate path, but as a combined effort.

Make steps to being open across the ecosystem

  • I was pleasantly surprised by the keynote of the second day, brought to us by Andres Arauz. He gave examples of his time working at the Ministry for Knowledge and Human Talent, where they implemented the National Plan for Good Living (“buenvivir”). He gave a lot of examples of concrete actions that they undertook (such as creating the new university Ikiam of the amazon); for me the one action that stood out was their use of Wikipedia to get to new legislation, a true example of participatory democracy. Find the reference in his keynote; it is worth the watch!
  • And yes when you are really eager to making a change, you step out of your comfort zone, and then there is always a conflict, and as Sian Proctor mentioned, the point is how to respond to this, how to manage it. If you need / want change, it can help to bring others in that might be more convincing than yourself. At the basis though if you want to be open across the ecosystem, your drivers should be complementarity and inclusiveness (compared to competition and exclusiveness).
  • Paul Stacey, Executive Director of OE Global, presented their new strategic plan “Open for Public Good”. He referred to another interesting report about Digital Sovereignty in this talk. “As digitalisation and decarbonisation continue worldwide, an open technology sector would provide a strong geopolitical position, that allows Europe to set global technological standards, promote European values, as well as, maintain and grow Europe’s economy.” I will for sure share this report with my IT colleague in our university! And I add here what Andres Arauz cleary stated: “You need to think about the value of your independence”.
  • My own observation > Policies might help (only if you put it in practice or as I like it i.e., put things in practice and let policy follow), as well as mandates can do (implemented in the right way). A good example how mandating worked in The Netherlands, again from Open Access / FAIR data / Open Science, was how the funding agencies acted and made requirements in relation to Open Access and FAIR Research Data. So we need policies that dictate that all educational material used in our universities should have persistent identifiers, carry the right license (though do take into consideration my earlier remark😉), and are FAIR (findable accessible interoperable and reusable).
Open Education Global sees education as an ecosystem. “The primary participants in the ecosystem are learners, educators, administrators, and governments. Together these players engage in three primary education activities – teaching & learning, research, and public community service. As an ecosystem, there are direct connections, interrelationships, and interdependencies between all participants and activities. The ecosystem is further connected by an increasingly technology-dependent infrastructure and served by a value co-creation network generating resources and services to all of the parts.”

There are two addititonal talks I would like to refer to. One was the presentation by Benjamin Heurich and Bence Lukács from the University of Passau. Where I always mention that we can use the analogy from Open Science / Open Access and FAIR Data to copy when enrolling Open Education and Open Educational Resources, they follow a reverse route. As they say: “Ultimately, we would like to drive a holistic, innovative and social transformation process of scientific research results into society and follow our OER policy in the medium term with a strategy to implement sustainable Open Science and Open Education.” The other one was from Ilmari Jauhiainen and he took us through the Finnish process of making Open Science happen. They are a group of 4, responsible for 4 workstreams, and he carries out the Open Education package, covering both Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices, the latter supporting the production and use of OER. All information is available on openscience.fi. Very impressive! The fact that the working group is positioned with the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies is a very interesting position of this working group, as I told him. That is where the practitioners are! Should we create such a construction in The Netherlands?

To conclude: By making our Education Open, everybody will benefit. The teachers, students, and all other stakeholders including civic society. Universities claim that they have an impact on society, however all layers or levels of education all over the world have impact, and by this impact, all learners will or may have impact on their surroundings, so we are increasing impact for all.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world

Nelson Mandela

It was a good choice to go to this conference; I will take a lot with me, to digest and think about. It was nice to meet some colleagues from the past, and to get acquainted with this OER network (including a lot of Dutch colleagues!). The conference had a diverse set of speakers, and introduced French, Spanish and Arabic sessions next to the English ones. It was a loose setting, not strictly moderated, but pleasantly easy-going. In 2023 OE Global will convene in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  

26 May 2022
Wilma van Wezenbeek

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