Between November 2nd and 4th, 2010, and thanks to the support of the Division for Lifelong Learning, I attended OpenEd 2010 in Barcelona, the first time the annual conference has taken place outside of North America. The conference was held at the impressive CosmoCaixa (Science Museum) on the western fringes of the city and attracted over 200 delegates from countries as far apart as Chile, South Africa, Canada and Estonia. The theme of this year's conference was OER: Impact and Sustainability and aside from the keynotes there were a number of key themes including best cases/project reports, Open Ed on the cheap and policy/strategy. Most of the conference papers are now available for download at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya's open access repository and there is also an unofficial conference wiki set up by one of the participants which contains some useful material.
Rather than cover all the sessions I attended I'll focus instead on eight messages and lessons that I took away from the conference. Here they are (in no particular order):
- Design OER for mobile first, desktop PCs second. According to Rory McGreal there are 3.4 billion mobile devices in use, and the majority of people accessing the internet do so via mobile devices. Yet much OER content, from simple Word documents to complex Flash-authored learning objects, are either inaccessible or poorly optimised for mobile devices. And with the vast array of Android and iOS mobile devices appearing, this may be a real issue for many people who choose to learn untethered from their desktop PC.
- We can afford to disrupt learning. Erik Duval's keynote on day 2 was entertaining, insightful and contained some 'wow' moments that were, perhaps, absent from some of the other presentations that I saw. His message was that we shouldn't be afraid to experiment with technology enhanced learning, even if things do get a bit messy as a result. Learning is the essence of being human, kids who fall off bikes and hurt themselves usually get straight back on again because they are desperate to learn how to ride. One important step in this process is to open up educational resources to be freely available and easily accessible to all, thus removing some of the 'friction' that currently exists with the abundance of OER material on the web. Mega OER search engines such as GLOBE (http://www.globe-info.org/) are a step in the right direction in this respect.
- We need to be less obsessed with OER content and more switched on to wider issues such as global consciousness, equalising access to the tools to create content, reducing/eliminating poverty and developing platforms for sharing that are open, organic and accessible. The inspirational session given by Brian Lamb, Scott Leslie and Novak Rogic showcased a range of open platforms and tools such as the UBC wiki (minimal institutional marketing yet significant take-up amongst faculty and students) and the excellent open online trading card game Phylo. The underlying message? OER is "a step . . . toward reclaiming the mandate of higher education as leaders and guardians of free and open enquiry."
- OER, meet Web 3.0 . . . One of the exciting things about educational technology conferences is coming across tools you've never heard of but can see a real use for. Two are worthy of particular mention. The first is Cohere, a collaborative 'sense-making' tool developed by the UK's Open University in association with the Knowledge Media Institute. Cohere provides an online environment where users can annotate web pages, add connection labels between annotations and people, and create semantic filtering of ideas and open resources. The second tool is the JISC/OU-funded Cloudworks, a social networking site for sharing learning ideas and resources through the concepts of 'clouds' (shared knowledge and information around teaching and learning) and 'cloudscapes' (collections of clouds centred around conferences, workshops, debates etc. For an example see the OpenEd2010 cloudscape). It's perhaps too early to say whether tools such as Cohere and Cloudworks become widespread but they certainly have the potential to harness the 'collective intelligence' of those involved in the open education movement.
- An iPad (or an Android/Blackberry/Windows tablet equivalent) makes an excellent conference tool. After 3 days tweeting, surfing and note-taking with the iPad I can't say I missed not having a laptop. Multitasking would have been nice (this was pre-OS 4.2) and the iPad still lacks a really good blogging App in my opinion (the WordPress App seems a bit flaky). However there was a big problem with connectivity which was sporadic and was only really usable first thing in the morning and late afternoon. Last year's OpenEd in Vancouver was live-streamed which would have been ideal for those unable to travel this time around. Many of the presenters were forced to load up web pages at their hotels in the morning and switch between them in their sessions, but the lack of a reliable connection resulted in a number of occasions where presenters were unable to show content on the fly. The outcome was a rather muted Twitter backchannel (#opened10) given the size of the conference.
- From learners as consumers to producers/authors of open content. While the focus of the majority of OER projects is on the systemised production and delivery of a set amount of OER content this tends to buy into the neo-liberal/capitalist model of academics as owners and producers of content and students as mere consumers of material that they have little say over. Challenging this model is the Student as Producer project at University of Lincoln involving conference presenters Mike Neary and Joss Winn is an attempt (fully supported by the Dean of Teaching and Learning, VC Mary Stuart and HEA funded to the tune of 200k) to reverse the idea of students as passive consumers of education and instead get them fully involved as participatory and collaborative producers of knowledge, fully engaged with academic research and teaching.
- Take existing open resources, (re)mix, match, (re)assemble and repurpose them. Don't reinvent the wheel. Don't spend hours creating open resources from scratch before seeing what's already out there and can be used (Rory McGreal again). Are learning technologists and open educators the new DJs?
- Where are the Produsers? I was surprised by the lack of coverage of user-centred design issues in OER development and delivery. Perhaps it was just the sessions I attended but nobody seemed to address explicitly how the process of OER creation has to have 'produsers' at its centre. Produsage is Axel Bruns term for those engaged in user-led content creation. Think Jon Beasley Murray's Murder, Madness and Mayhem project where his students actively contributed to featured articles on Wikipedia. I think the idea of learners and academics as produsers might be key to envisaging open education as more than just the creation of 'things.'