Reflecting on the OERu concept

Posted on June 27, 2012

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I recently received some feedback from members of the OERu network on the interviews and the survey findings that I’ve posted on the blog. The following pieces have been extracted from the OERu email list, with the permission of the writers.

Gene Loeb:

This is a very productive activity illuminating the thoughts and feelings about the OERu at this time. This entire effort is useful for the more generalized application worldwide. Open education and learning  is accelerating and each piece of information such as these from these interviews produces important progress in the implementation of these concepts.

Elizabeth Mbasu:

Dear all,
Kudos to GW and all that participated in the Toucans Research Project. Some thoughts arising from across the blogs:

1. Interaction

a. Resources
There might be many good resources for some course but just like in formal settings, there may be need for some content expert to select the few minimal resource(s) in line with achieving learning outcomes, to minimize on “time and task”. Additional optional resources plus those learners might add will always be there.

b. Peers and others
How will interaction among learners, peers and others be incorporated in the learning design? And when a peer assesses a fellow learner, who validates the assessment? Learners feel more comfortable, confident and motivated when they know that somebody is constantly watching over them along the learning journey.How will the social presence of peers and others be enhanced_e.g the OERu  X learning community? Will OERu learners have an opportunity to mingle with parallel formal setting learners (of the same course)? Will the courses run parallel?

2. Learner Support: How will one ensure that mentors, peers and volunteers offer some credible support? Is it possible that content experts might be available to support learners? And are there some form of sustainability mechanisms to support e.g motivation along the learning  journey just in-case the expected  levels of “perseverance ” fail? Will there be some student progress tracking mechanism and time lines? What might be the acceptableTeacher:student ratio?

3. Assessment:  I buy Irwin Devries view from TRU. The variety sound adequate and in some ways,  could be equated to formal learning assessment in practice today. My fear is that if not automated/portfolios/peer, who will mark it and show learner’s achievement levels? The synergy from the “crowd” of facilitators and learners having interacted with resources will definitely contribute to a huge rich knowledge repository depending on the numbers of  learners – will facilitators manage to keep abreast with and integrate emerging useful knowledge along the learning journey and  in the challenging exams?

4. Hopefully the credentials awarded will not discriminate graduates on the basis of formal and informal settings.

Wayne Mackintosh:

Hi Elizabeth,

Appreciate your feedback and excellent set of questions and ideas to help shape  OERu futures.  Your post provides a good opportunity to update list members who may not be following our detailed planning and development activities in the wiki.
  • Selecting resources
With reference to your question on OERu course resources – -the OERu anchor partners are assembling courses from existing OERs which map to the learning outcomes and graduate profiles of existing credentials. Some courses will be implementing a “pedagogy of discovery” where learners will have greater freedom to select OERs of their choice. However, the OERu model aims to provide a framework of support in helping learners identify and select materials in support of their learning.  Within the next week or two, we will be able to show a representative sample of course materials using this free-range learning approach in the wiki.
  • Peer learning support and Academic Volunteers International
We will be using a range of technologies and activities embedded in the course design to promote peer-learning support. The OERu will be serving large numbers of learners — so we need to use technologies which can scale for thousands of students.
So for example, we have been trialing the integration of Microblog activities for peer-learning support in the two previous offerings of the Open Content Licensing workshop. We integrate microblog activities within the learning resources as prompts for learners to share thoughts and ideas about our courses and to support fellow learners. The approach works rather well as a stream of  “digital consciousness” where learners across 24 time zones share thoughts and experiences about their learning.  Typically our online workshops attract hundreds of learners from +50 countries. These are amazing international community learning events and we are confident that the technology will scale for large numbers of OERu learners.
Of interest is a feature we use to aggregate feeds from multiple sources including Twitter, identi.ca, WEnotes (a note posting feature in WikiEducator) and an abridged extract from the Moodle discussion posts in the course to generate a timeline of activity. See for example: http://wikieducator.org/Open_content_licensing_for_educators/Microblog_feed . This provides a live timeline of learning activity across the world and opportunities for learners to connect and support each other.
We are also planning to implement a community-based question and answer forum as an additional peer-learning support resource and a mechanism to facilitate engagement. Participants will earn ‘Karma points” and Badges for their participation in the Q&A forum as we learn together and support each other during the course. See for example: http://ask.oeruniversity.org/questions/ .
We have also made good progress in developing the conceptual design for Academic Volunteers International with reference to the kinds of support and potential volunteer groups. We will be developing learner support resources for OERu learners and Academic Volunteers. We are thinking about developing a course focusing on digital literacies for the 21st century which could potentially carry formal credit towards an OERu credential.
Also, the open web provides numerous opportunities for OERu learners to initiate their own study groups.
  • Assessment and validation 
Quality assurance and credible credentials are the foundations on which the OERu network is being built. OERu credentials. The OERu anchor partners have agreed to ensure equivalence and parity of esteem for qualifications gained through the OER university network. We will not compromise on quality.  Consequently the validation of assessment will be done in accordance with the existing quality assurance and credentialing policies of the conferring institutions.
The summative assessments for OERu learners will be marked and graded by suitably qualified staff in the employ of the conferring institution. There will be no difference in the quality or stature of a degree earned by attending classes face-to-face or online through the OERu network.
Great questions Elizabeth and thanks for your post!

Elizabeth Mbasu:

Dear Wayne,

My fears are allayed after perusing well planned out mitigating strategies. […] Over the years, I have had a bias for Social Presence for distance learners. I have earmarked course design,  Individual or group learning (? Important topic for discussion)” and  I’d like to share my own experience though it seems drawn from a personal bias for “social presence”. 

“I have observed that during asynchronous communication, learners share and learn quite a lot from others. As a facilitator, I read their posts and make some notes about;

  • points they have made that should be repeated for the whole group
  •   questions that need to be answered
  •  misconceptions that need to be corrected or clarified
  •  directions for the discussion (is there a question I can pose that will lead the group to do some deeper thinking? Or, is the discussion taking a ‘wrong turn’ and needs re-direction?)

These are some of the pieces that make up my ‘summary’of the concept under discussion. I post this in the discussion when most people have had a chance to respond (and use a subject heading like ‘Discussion so far’ or something like that) and then wait for the discussion to continue from there. When it seems like the discussion is over, I add another posting that summarizes what has been discussed… areas where students have come to consensus or where they have had differences of opinion and then add my final thoughts.

As a facilitator, I also need to be watching to see that everyone is participating. Are there some learners who have not posted or whose postings are minimal? If so, then I need to send them a private email and gently remind them to respond or even give them some suggestions for how they can make their postings more complete (this is where a discussion rubric can come in handy!) Sometimes I might notice that there are students who share similar interests and I could send emails to them suggesting people that they could talk to and share resources with.

I make sure that I am ‘present’ in the discussions and that I offer my content expertise where it is needed. I also noticed that online students become very frustrated and lose their motivation when they are left only to discuss with each other. In any ‘good‘ online discussion (my bias) the secret is the re “teacher”.
The ‘psychological dimension’ relating to the idea of ‘security/belongingness’ is important… (Short & Christie, 1976, p. 65). Part of the he scaffolding might require some figure of an expert teacher. The design may generate one from among the students or so.

Many thanks to Gene, Elizabeth and Wayne for this conversation. If anyone wants to add their thoughts, please hit the Comments button now 🙂

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