Takeaways from the OpenEd16 conference

This post is a collaborative summary of the Open Education 2016 conference by Billy Meinke, Beth Tillinghast, Sunny Pai, Helen Toregoe and Carol Hasegawa.

A handful of us were in attendance at this year’s OpenEd16 conference, which took place two weeks ago in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Record numbers were in attendance, and the conference served as common meeting ground for those building OER communities and resources.

UH folks at OpenEd16 conference

This year’s conference focused on a swath of topics including the “how” of successful open textbook projects, open pedagogical practices, and the future of OER content.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Open Pedagogy

Various projects were showcased at the conference, highlighting the possibilities of what can happen in the classroom when the content is open. As it was explained by David Wiley, organizer of the conference:

People learn when they do things

Copyright restricts what we are allowed to do

Open permits us to do new things

How will doing new things impact learning? Will we learn more? More deeply? Different things?

For those unfamiliar with Open Pedagogy, it essentially means that student in a given course are tasked with being producers of knowledge as part of their grade in the course, not just consuming content. OER are legally-open resources that can be built upon, and Open Pedagogy describes tools and methods of exploring how learners can benefit from knowledge co-creation.

Any example of Open Pedagogy can be found in Robin De Rosa’s blog post where she discusses the process she went through having her former students and student assistants help her create an open textbook covering Early American Literature. This is a great example of how students can contribute to OERs, becoming part of the content production process.

Meaningful Editing of OER

Adopting an open textbook often assumes that a certain level of adaptation need to be made before it will “fit” the style of the instructor and students. OER in come in many technical formats (ie .pdf, .doc), but not are as easy to edit as we like. Fortunately, the technical systems that make it easy to edit OER are improving, and many conference attendees were sharing their experiences using the Pressbooks platform to adopt and revise open textbooks.

Two groups who are building and supporting the adoption of open textbooks using Pressbooks as a platform are BC Campus and the Open Textbook Network. Each of them shared a guide to editing OER on the Pressbooks platform, which are worth a look.

Brad Payne from BCCampus gave a presentation that highlighted overlaps between the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement, and hinted at work he is doing to build technology that improves collaboration on OER content. Two ideas that are supporting this work include 1) Stigmergy, which relates to the traces of our collective behaviors to collaborating on OER, and 2) Choral explanations, which are a form of stigmergy in which the collection of “good explanations” to answers about instructional content can help maintain and sustain effective OER.

Open Citation

David Kernohan’s (of JISC and the former UK OER effort) talk focused an intriguing historic lens on the tangled web of authors and publishers and how current measures of scholarly output & reputation need to be reconsidered and brought into the open. For more on this, see the Wikipedia article on altmetrics.

The OER Degree Initiative

The Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative, supported by Achieving the Dream, seeks to boost college access and completion, particularly for underserved students, by engaging faculty in the redesign of degree programs through the replacement of proprietary textbooks with open educational resources. This three year program started working with 38 community colleges in March 2016 and Bunker Hill CC, Santa Ana College, Central Virginia CC, and San Jacinto CC shared their early experiences. Some of their challenges included working with their institutions to change their class availability systems to identify OER courses, getting faculty buy-in, and navigating copyright questions.

A Synthesis of OER Efficacy and Perceptions Research: 2015-2016

John Hilton shared a few real life stories about how saving on textbook costs helps students with their basic living costs, then reviews studies that show how students using OER have been getting better grades and using their savings to sign up for more courses. OER use has also reduced drop rates, saving colleges significant sums as students are better able to persevere and finish their courses.

Netease: China corporate sponsor of OER

The 3rd biggest internet provider of online games & email service in China, Netease has spent 40 million yuan/year for the past 6 years to support a dedicated staff of 100 to service the higher educational needs of 18-35 year olds. High school in China, as in Japan, is rigorous; college is not, so Netease is addressing the learning gap to better prepare youth for the competitive and increasingly global job market.

Secrets to Success as a Faculty OER Champion

Linda S. Williams, a Business Professor at Tidewater Community College, is known for leading the first textbook free (Z Degree) program in the nation. She posits that “The most successful OER initiatives are those that are faculty driven and administratively supported. Key to this success are faculty champions who either by design or desire take on the role of OER advocate.”

She shared three important lessons she learned as a faculty OER champion at her school:

  1. Commitment – Takes an incredible level of commitment.  Commitment requires thick skin, because not everyone wants what you are selling.  But you can’t waiver.
  2. Consensus – Think about building consensus. Can you build consensus among the department?
  3. Community – Find people around you who will partner with you, to help you over the rocky times.  She formed a Z-degree advisory committee. Community is very important.

Finally, she stated “leadership is the ability to walk away from something and not have it fail.”

Pathways: Facilitating an online OER Training for Faculty

Since Fall 2014, 96 faculty at Tidewater Community College (TCC) have completed the 6-week online asynchronous “Adopting OER in the Classroom” training.  Per TCC’s OER policy, the librarians provide pathways, support, and training, and therefore facilitate the faculty training twice per semester.  It is not mandated but required of faculty before being allowed to teach a z-degree course.  Faculty choose to participate because they 1) want to teach a  developed z-course, 2) convert to z-course, or 3) interested but not yet teaching a z-course.

More stories & storytelling in presentations

Patterns emerge when you attend a marathon of 25 minute sessions over 2 days.

One thread noticed was the use of storytelling by multiple presenters, including the keynote speaker, Sara Goldrick-Rab. Narrative is a research method, the qualitative enriches the quantitative measures of assessment. Stories linger with us.

In sum

The OpenEd16 conference was a valuable experience for everyone involved, and the folks from the UH System who attended have brought back a renewed vision for OER and many great ideas. Looking forward to next year.