Let’s open-up! Thoughts after a recent HEA seminar

It is already Sunday. I can’t believe this. Where did the week go? I started writing the below when travelling on the train to London this week and was planning to have the draft ready then but I felt so dizzy in the train that I had to abandon my plan… unfortunately. So this remained unfinished for some days… I will try now and stitch my thoughts together. Hopefully it will work. Ok, let’s make a start.

This week I went to the HEA and participated in a seminar around open educational practices. As I am currently engaged in research linked to this area as a PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University and am developing open CPD initiatives in the context of Academic Development, I felt that this was an important event to be part of. I was right.

Prof. Grainne Connole made me think about the importance of the learning design (reminder for self: need to read Grainne’s 7c learning design in more detail!!!), something I feel is vital to make it work, and the determining effect and impact this has on the practice itself but also the facilitator and learner experience and learning. If we want Learners to be engaged in meaningful ways, we need to be creative and focus on the learner. This applies for face-to-face settings, blended or fully online, closed or open provision. While I am writing this, my mind wanders again to the thought that no learning is fully online. But let’s go back to my question. How can we engage all learners in a meaningful way when we bring the masses or even the world together in one enormous chaotic classroom? Can learning happen in vast networks and decentralised and distributed communities?  I have used the term ‘communities’ here without even thinking about it. Suddenly the term ‘classroom’ was gone from my vocabulary. I think learning can happen out there, learning happens everywhere and all the time. However, as we are all different, different things work for different people. I have heard and read often that open education will engage the unengaged. Does it at the moment? Evidence seems to say that it is not the case. We might have seen new sections of the global population starting to participate in open educational offers and for many it will be the only offer there is, but it is not an accessible way of learning for many who are perhaps less experienced, confident and competent in such learning ecologies. After the MOOC hype,it becomes clear that we are now recognising the role human support and human interaction play for participation and learning. How could we have forgotten? How could we had assumed that machines would be able to replace vital ingredients of human interaction? Did we get carried away with making educators superstars in the global classroom? Turning the classroom into a world stage? We’re we blinded by the numbers? Is learning and teaching a popularity contest? Why are we teaching? I thought at the heart of learning is the learner…

It is encouraging that even the NMC Horizon Report for Higher Education 2014, actually focuses more on pedagogies instead of the tools. Grainne pointed this out and I should read the report in more detail. This is definitely a shift and signalises the need to focus more on identifying innovative ways for learning instead of replicating boring, bad and bold pedagogies. Grainne reminded us that the web is just coming out of its teenage years and social media is only turning 10. What does that mean for us? Rebellious years ahead? I think the only certain thing is that things will change and they change faster and faster. This makes it harder to keep up and makes lifelong and lifewide learning essential not just to survive but also to thrive and innovate.

All speakers talked about MOOCs and generally other open creations and open educational resources. Are MOOCs just OERs? And we know that these are under-used anyway? The world of resources is exploding. We are drowning in resources and content. Why do we keep producing more? Is this linked to our human desire of creating stuff? I am wondering. We do love making stuff and David Gauntlett has written extensive about this and I am grateful to Frances Bell who introduced me to his work during a train journey a few years ago. We do learn through making as he said. But if this is the case who is really learning more when we teachers make the stuff for our students? What needs to happen so that we focus our desire to make stuff on creating activities and spaces that foster interaction, exchange and learning? Should students make stuff instead? What about making stuff with our students?

Various acronyms came up and others were coined in the room. Not sure if it is important how we call something… shouldn’t we focus more on what it is and what we are trying to achieve? Why do we do the things we do in the way we do them? Could it be that many are on the MOOC avenue, as they want to be left behind but perhaps don’t know where they are leading or what they want to achieve? The conversation about open educational practices still seems to be an add-on. I am more interested in how we can open-up existing provision to connect learners and teachers worldwide and enrich their experience and help them grow into more open-minded individuals. Are there opportunities to join up courses? The EU calls for greater openness in the Modernisation of Higher Education to connect students, teachers and programmes more widely to enrich their learning experience and broaden their perspectives about the world but also make them reflect on the nature of collaboration and the potentials it brings within a connected world.

Prof. Alejandro Armellini was provocative and made us think about the physical campus and how this will be changing. He said

“We keep building impressive buildings but the campus of the future will be smaller!”

This is a good opportunity for all of us to reflect and capture how we feel about the above. Feel free to add your comments to this post so that we can have a conversation about this.

Alejandro, or short Ale 😉 also talked about Northampton’s baby steps in the area of open educational practices but also the need to open up more and connect with others – to collaborate! Prof. Neil Morris also emphasised on collaboration and actually suggested that all funded HEA bits for example should be collaborative ones. I really liked that idea as it would really bring institutions closer together and identify jointly opportunities for collaboration and   innovation instead of competition!!! Ale, noted that it will be hard to convince academics to be more open and consider open practices, he said, but evidence of its value, will be the driving force for change. “Academics want to see evidence” he said, but also that “we need talk to people and start from where they are“. As we all experiment with open, we should really evaluate and investigate our initiatives, even if they are mini. We need to learn more about the open learner and their experience but also open organisers and facilitators. My interest lies within collaborative open learning and how we can enable this in cross-institutional contexts. When we talk about open educational practice, it is usually a brand new flashy course (we heard numbers in the region of £30,000 to produce one of these), something that is de-touched form the normal institutional offer while I feel the potential is there to open-up all courses and connect our learners to other learners, professionals and global communities. I think if the open offer becomes part of what we do as institutions, there will be room to explore additional business models. Universities are in the business to advance knowledge and to innovate. Isn’t opening up our courses to enrich the experience of our students a good enough business model? I don’t like the phase I used here ‘good enough’ but struggle to express what I mean. Perhaps valid, valuable? Do you understand what I mean?

Too often staff are unsure if they are aloud to do things! I really liked Neil’s idea of giving academics the freedom to explore and experiment. Constructing and imposing no-no policies won’t work and definitely stifle creativity and innovation. Let them play, let them experiment and build a vision together. If there is buy in at all levels and we all work together great things can happen and they did happen at Leeds, according to Neil. There was a shared vision and this helped to put all puzzle pieces together and start creating a more open future together.

I could continue writing here as this event triggered a lot of thinking into so many different directions but I will make a pause here hoping that some will respond and we can turn this into a conversation. Just would like to add the following quote shared by Ale which makes a lot of sense to me…

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

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