The open bug: a story of collaboration and resurrection

Open Education week 2014 has come to an end but open educators are open and share their work openly all year round. The week was a festival of celebrations around the globe with opportunities to share, connect and learn with others and find out what open education is all about but also stop for a while and reflect on the value of being open and sharing experiences, resources, expertise but also ideas that truly grow and evolve when we come together. There was a buzz in the air, I could feel it in the digital jungle but also in the physical one when I visited places and interacted with others.

Is open education giving away stuff and letting others use our ideas freely without any restrictions or even trample on our ideas and forget their origin, their history? Some might see it that way. I don’t.

For me open education is a great opportunity to share our learning with others, to help others and be helped but also to give something back to society. It is a celebration of human discoveries, stories, achievements, creativity and innovations, of any scale, even the tiniest one that might be of value for others. Open education has the potential to lead to personal and collective growth; to new explorations, new adventures. Together we can achieve loads. Loads more than on our own. I read somewhere that ideas live longer when they are shared. It must be true. But, I think, they don’t just live longer, they also grow in different directions. A seed can grow into an exotic plant, that will then multiply following the cycle of life and evolve into something else. Birth, growth, death, renewal. I really think sharing is the fertiliser of ideas! Respectful sharing! Sharing keeps ideas alive. Sharing is also an ideas generator. Sharing is vital for humanity and has led us where we are today. Sharing makes us who we are, creates our paths for the future, our destinies.

Our minds are magic machines, like no other and our imaginations are limitless. In our minds we flirt with possibilities and impossibilities and often we let ourselves get lost in these. But we are not just dreamers, we create new realities too. We make things happen and we make things. We make the impossible, possible. We have done this many times and will do so again, many more times. And we love to share the things we make. We always did. Humans always found fulfilment and happiness in sharing. We still do! Perhaps in the olden days, I call them BC, as in before computers, and especially before social media, sharing was more localised and it was harder to discover fresh ideas that were just born in a little village on the other side of the planet by somebody nobody outside the little village knew. Today, we all have a voice, we are all global broadcasters, sharers and makers if we want to be but also learners and  teachers, and we can all share our thoughts, ideas, creations not just with the people who are near us geographically but more often we share with people we feel are near us a-geographically if there is such a word. Technologies at our fingertips are bringing out the social animal and the maker in us and empower us to share many aspects of our lives with a much wider audience, find alias at the edge of the world that remind us that we are not alone in our thoughts… Especially creative people, I think, who are driven by their curiosity to discover and connect, to play and explore, have become global adventurers and benefited the most from seeking and creating opportunities to reach out and connect, experiment and collaborate with like minded people wherever they are which creates a sense of belonging within vibrant networks and communities. We perhaps feel also less lonely knowing that there are other people out there who push the boundaries,  take risks, use their imagination and creativity to collaborate and innovate. It gives us strength to keep moving and move on. Could this sense of belonging be the true value of opening-up, connecting and sharing with others?

During Open Education Week, our open FDOL course developed by myself and Lars Uhlin was underway, week 5 out of 6, I was invited by Dr David Walker to share some of my open education projects at an HEA event  at Sussex University.

I engaged in other open events during the week and really enjoyed Cathrine Cronin‘s and Sheila MacNeill‘s webinar around the open educator.

I managed also to watch the recording of another interesting and highly useful webinar for my PhD research especially, by Terese Bird and Prof. Grainne Conole.

On top of all that activity, travelling up and down the country and my normal working life (and my personal and family life as well!!!), I came up with the idea to offer another 5-Day course with a twist during the week. Not that I had time for this on top of everything else I was doing already, but I couldn’t stop myself… and I made the time.

I have asked myself many times what happened to OERs and stand-alone courses available under a Creative Commons licence in repositories and other digital locations and was keen to explore how these could potentially be repurposed. My idea was to use a ready-made, off-the shelf course and bring together a team of volunteer facilitators to enable interaction and support learning plus add a few synchronous happenings to the offer. From my work as an academic developer I have seen far too often that educators focus on content. Their prep often means putting a PowerPoint together and lecture notes. What do we forget? The interaction? Our learners? Content is everywhere!!! And I am not a walking encyclopedia to know everything, not even in my own professional area. Things change too rapidly and mountains of new knowledge are created as we speak. Is it actually possible to know everything and is it actually even needed?

During the OER13 Conference I heard Darco Jansen say:

Content is not education, interaction is!

These words were extremely powerful and stayed with me since.

But also it isn’t really about us and what we do but more about what our learners do and how we can facilitate learning and support them but also learn with them. Often we also feel restricted when given somebody else’s materials to use in our classes. We want to make and use our own and I have been thinking about this before as a possible cause for the reduced re-use and re-purposing of OER? But I might make a massive assumption here and this is not good. So please interpret this more as a question that needs to be explored further. Well I wanted to put this to the test and almost proof, if you like, that we seem to focus on the wrong things! Is learning really about the content? We say it isn’t but what are we doing about it? I had already located a suitable course for this experiment which was waiting patiently in my Diigo collection for some time now to be used… when Paul Booth, made an announcement the week before that he would launch his newly created Northwest OER Network during Open Education Week and put a call out for suggestions of network activities to the steering group, I proposed my open course idea or the hijacking if you like of an existing stand-alone course and breath interaction, facilitation and support into it but also enable facilitators to develop and grow. So learning and development opportunities for all! Could this work? The course I proposed was developed by Dr David Wiley and available within p2pu Intro to Openness in Education. Accessing the course, didn’t even require registration which was an added bonus. The themes and resources in this course presented opportunities for flexible engagement also so that anybody who participated could pick ‘n’ mix and engage as much or as little as they would like or was possible at the time. I was pleased that my idea was well received by the steering group and led to the development and implementation during Open Education Week. This was speed course building in action and required concentrated commitment. What a thrill. Previously with Sue Beckingham, we worked for 3 months to develop BYOD4L now we had only a few days. Could we make it work? As Paul embraced it I decided that we could run it together under the Northwest OER Network. I wanted to help Paul raise awareness of his new and important network for the region and also secured support from CELT. In no time, we managed to get 13 volunteer facilitators in total from 3 different continents through our networks and together, we created a facilitated version of the existing course and offered it during Open Education Week. We didn’t have to worry about content and my take on it was that participants would anyway share their own resources, much nicer that providing everything ready on the plate, so to speak.  Anne Hole also shared her collaborative flipboard and invited others to contribute useful resources and links. We used a buddy system for facilitators who worked in pairs during the week, most of them. We had done this before with Sue and it worked really well. We also created a private community for facilitators to come together to support each other and shared a Google doc folder with related information to co-ordinate activities. We focused on creating daily opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous interactions in different social spaces and our main question was how we could bring learners together. There were discussions, open air hangouts, an external webinar led by Prof. Martin Weller (blog post, presentation and recording available here) and tweetchats.

I think, the tweetchats created most of the buzz. We used the tweetchat format developed by Sue Beckingham for our BYOD4L course and it worked really well. The tweetchats brought facilitators and some individuals from the wider community together on 3 days of the week. The exchange was rich and I could see that the chats generated more questions than answers, which I think, us a good thing. I really would love to investigate why tweetchats seem to work so well. What makes them work? The week was intense, a roller coaster, a fantastic and exciting experience. Peter Reed created daily visualisations of our tweet tags based on Martin Hawskey‘s tags explorer and many of us used Stori.fy to bring the tweetchats together. There is no way, any of this would have been possible without Paul Booth, my partner in crime, Carol Yeager, Anne Hole, Helen Webster, Betty Hurley-Dasgupta, Sue Beckingham, Kathrine Jensen, Peter Reed, Lenandlar Singh, Simon Thomson, Alex Spiers, Neil Currie and all who joined us during the week. We are grateful for the commitment and passion they showed to this last-minute project and their engagement and exchange. Thank you all!

My next open experiment leads me to an even more playful adventure and an open curriculum… I won’t be doing this on my own, so much richer when we share the journey with others 😉

If you are new to all this open stuff,  don’t be quick to dismiss it, give it a go! Identify a mini-opportunity to open-up and connect one of your classes with the outside world and help your students connect with people out there to enrich their learning experience further and make it authentic. It will also be fab for you as you will make new connections with educators around the world and feel part of a wider community.

Remember sharing is good for all of us. But do it properly!

Remember not just to take but also to give back and if you build your ideas on somebody else’s, add proper  attribution! Give a little something back today and consider sharing your open creation via JORUM with others and see your ideas growing.

Did you catch the open bug? Share your story with me.

Note: A newer version of this post has been published in the June 2014 edition of the Lifewide Magazine. See http://www.lifewidemagazine.co.uk/ I am adding the references below.

Thank you for stopping by and reading 😉

Chrissi

References (of Lifewide Magazine version of this post)

Conole, G. (2013) Designing for learning in an Open World, London: Springer.
European Commission (2013) High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education. Report to the European Commission on Improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions, European Union, available at http://ec.europa.eu/education/higher-education/doc/modernisation_en.pdf [accessed 21 November 2013]
Jackson, N. J. (2013) Learning Ecology Narratives in N Jackson and G B Cooper (Eds) Lifewide Learning, Education and Personal Development E-Book. Chapter C4 available at: http://www.lifewideebook.co.uk/ [accessed 30 March 2014]
Jackson, N. J. (2014a) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities & Colleges: Concepts and Conceptual Aids, in N.J.Jackson and J. Willis (Eds) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities and Colleges. Chapter A1, available at:http://www.learninglives.co.uk/e-book.html [accessed 30 March 2014]

Jackson, N. J. (2014b) Towards a lifewide curriculum, in: Willis, J. (ed.) Lifewide Magazine, Issue 9, March 2014, available at http://www.lifewidemagazine.co.uk/ [accessed 30 March 2014]
Nerantzi, C. & Beckingham, S. (2014) BYOD4L – Our Magical Open Box to Enhance Individuals’ Learning Ecologies, in:  Jackson, N. & Willis, J. (eds.) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities and Colleges E-Book, avaialable at http://www.learninglives.co.uk/e-book.html [accessed 30 March 2014]
Redecker, C. & Punie, Y. (2014) The Future of Learning 2025: Developing a vision for change, in: Future Learning, Volume 2, Number 1, Baltzer Science Publishers, pp. 3-17,available at http://essential.metapress.com/content/q446811434mp6x01/ [accessed 30 March 2014]
Weller, M. (1011) The Digital Scholar. How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice, London: Bloomsbury Academic
Wiley, D. & Hilton, J. (2009) Openness, Dynamic Specialization, and the Disaggregated Future of Higher Education, in: International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Volume 10, Number 5, 2009, pp. 1-16., available at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/768 [accessed 30 March 2014]

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