Friday, 29 March 2013

A Fictional OER on Digital Skills


This course is aimed at the older Greek and Greek–Cypriot diasporas in Britain, Australia and Germany who went to these countries in the 1950s and 1960s, either as economic migrants or to escape the civil war in Cyprus or military dictatorship in Greece.

The course is intended to help members of these communities develop digital skills to maintain links with their country of origin.

Brief Proposed Structure of OER

Informational Websites
There is a lot of information of Greece and Cyprus. However, the vast majority of it focuses on Ancient Greece and some of the modern Cypriot material concentrates on the civil war. I could find nothing on the present crises in either country.
Joining Discussion Groups
There are no materials on how to join and use discussion groups.
Using Social Media
There are some OERs which look at the educational impact of social media but nothing instructional.
Language Skills
There are several Greek language courses
Modern Culture
There are some resources on modern Greek and Cypriot culture and music


There is an assumption that the users of these repositories are either ‘digital natives’ or have some level of competency when it comes to digital skills. Clearly there is a need for OERs that do not make this assumption. Also it is clear that the OERs found through the repositories reflect the teaching in the universities and other institutions linked to the repositories. Therefore the needs of the students at these institutions are placed at the forefront when OERs are put together. They may be open to all but they are not appropriate to all. 

I would not try and change the OER to fit in with the materials that are available through these respositories simply because this feels to me to be the wrong way around. Perhaps there is space for a repository that looks beyond the digital resources in higher education and towards those created from community education instead.

Key Issues of Open Educational Resources (Week 2)

1) Sustainability of OERs

In "Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources" Stephen Downes talks about sustainability in terms of starting up OERs. He looks at funding, staffing levels etc. However, one of the issues with OERs that also come under the umbrella of sustainability is maintainance after the OER is created. My experience is that many OER projects are generously funded at start up but then have difficulties finding the resources for maintainance, improvement or expansion. This is an issue as technologies move on (i.e. from Flash to HTML5) or the learning needs of users have changed and the OER may in danger of becoming redundant.

One example of this is 'Culture Online' which was funded by the British government between 2002 and 2007. Twenty OERs were created which varied from an exploration of Asian plant culture in Britain through to descriptions of children's playground games. In 2007 all funding for the project stopped, the portal is no longer active but has been archived by the National Archives.

If OERs are to remain relevant to the needs of learners and can keep up with societal and technological change then some small-scale funding should be put into place.

2) Pedagogic and Cultural Neutrality?

In "Three Objections to Learning Objects and E-Learning Standards" Norm Friesen questions the idea that OERs are pedagogically neutral. I would like to take the issue of OER neutrality one step further and argue that OERs are not culturally neutral either. OERs are created in a context and can be seen as the product of the culture that creates them. The open-ended, informal and individualistic learning styles that many OERs are designed for could be seen as most appropriate to the cultural norms in the Western world in general and the United States in particular. 

This issue should begin to right itself as the developing world (and the BRIC nations) start to create OERs that more closely fit in with the cultural and educational norms and expectations of their societies.

3) Metadata and Tagging

In another piece by Stephen Downes "Learning Objects: Resources for Distance Education Worldwide" discusses the issues of metadata and tagging within OERs. Downes argues that we do not need thousands of online courses on the sine wave function. This may or may not be true but many of those courses will use different sets of metadata and tags. The lack of common tags across OERs can be a problem, especially when institutions are working together to create OERs.

I was involved in a now-defunct portal project called NOAH (Norfolk Online Access to Heritage). It aimed to allow users to search through the digital records of local museum, library and archive services simultaneously. The main problem was that similar objects were catalogued (or tagged) in different ways. For instance, libraries might catalogue the 1914-18 conflict as "First World War". No such description is used in museum or archival cataloguing and might be described as the "Early Twentieth Century" or even more vaguely, "Post-Medieval". That would mean that anybody using NOAH might get incomplete results from a search.

There are on-going attempts at an international level to formulate a common set of tags for cultural digital projects but will take some time to come up with agreed standards.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

First Week of the Course

Why am I Doing This Course?

I have just finished a MOOC on "Online Learning and Digital Culture" with the University of Edinburgh. I found the experience both fascinating and enriching from a professional point of view. I learnt a lot about how technology moulds (and is moulded by) our society. The various discussion forums were very useful and I have made some good professional contacts that I still maintain.

It is my interest in digital and open education that led me to this course.

Some Background on Me

After about 15 years in museums and heritage education I became a freelance educational writer and consultant. I have had about 30 children's textbooks published and I have contributed educational pieces to the BBC, 'Times Educational Supplement' and the 'Guardian' (amongst others). I have also acted in an advisory capacity for various HLF-funded projects.

Image on Open Learning
This is a quick image of what I feel Open Learning looks like. For those who do not know what a Trade School is. This is a new form of learning where tutors offer their time and expertise not for money but through a bartering system with students. If you want to know more then click on this link. I am big fan of Trade Schools especially in the economic and environmental situation that we find ourselves in.