#oerhf notes part 2 – morning panel on US issues

The mid-morning session was a panel on Domestic OER Related Policies: Opportunities and Challenges Across Levels (Moderator: Phoenix Wang, Co-Founder, Startl). This session was very focused on the lobbying at state and federal level of OER, and a clear theme was the need for a consistency in the way OER was described and the advantages put forward. There was always a general belief that tax-payer funded materials should *always* be licensed unobstructively and that funding was a lever to change the dynamics of the content ecosystem. Most of the speakers identified themselves as “advocates” of OER, so most discussion centred around ways of promoting and explaining OER to “non-believers”

* Hal Plotkin, Senior Policy Advisor, U.S. Dept of Education
When asked “what are we not doing” to support OER, he replied that the current dysfunctional model of the delivery of learning material is an immense industry, with key lobbying access to politicians from commercial publishers. An alliance between the Democratic Party and publishers was instrumental in supporting academic freedom (eg in teaching evolution in schools) may not be beneficial in supporting OER. A match between a 400lb gorilla and a pipsqeak!

He flagged Jim Shelton’s “Invest in Innovation” fund c.$600 for which bids have just closed. Highlighted that OER is not a stand-alone activity, but needs to be embedded in other innovation.

FIPSI (fund for the improvement of post secondary education) worth keeping an eye on.

Noted that he was a “turtle on a fencepost” (he didn’t get there by himself!) and offered thanks to the Foundation and the community.

* Linda Wallinger, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Virginia Dept of Education (http://www.doe.virginia.gov/)
A former French teacher, Linda has a particular interest in using technology for language level. Noted parental preferences around value-laden topics as an under-appreciated driver in education. Using “race to the top” funding in working with universities there have been queries about what “freely available” means and they await a response. In Virginia they have legislated for the release of OER content – an open educational content board. Takes longer than teachers are willing to wait to enact policy, but the boards purpose is to designate OER consortia and to provide quality and licensing guidelines. No funding but enacted.

Betti (?) reported that Maine are undertaking a “multi-faceted attach”. Two HF grants around OER, also title 2-D (enhancing technology via No Child Left Behind Act) schools funds to release OER. Also have a non-profit company based at the University based on this (I was in the pub with the guy who runs this last night!)

* Reg Leichty, Partner, Education Counsel
Reg discussed the US federal education policy landscape, and looked forward to OER initiatives forthcoming. He noted that “no child left behind” would make way to more local and proactive initiatives. The Recovery Act looked at teacher development, more effective uses of data, school improvement, standards and assessments (eg the development of a common core of state standards, which will greatly effect the way states think about curricula). Implementation is ongoing, with billions of dollars available on application to states to work on local implementation via “Race to the Top”. Outputs from this grant will be freely available as OER. The Enhancing Education through Technology programme also includes OER language, and the School Improvement funding programme can be used to make outputs available as OER.

Reauthorisation of the No Child Left Behind Act is ongoing, with hearings in progress to define the future of this legislation. He called for the OER community to speak as one voice in advocating OER.

Doug ? (CC Broadband?) – stimulus programme means every American should have access to broadband, most focused on supply side but also some work on demand side – one area that was highlighted was around OER, recommendations delivered to congress and parts are being enacted. E-rate2.0 (cheaper broadband for education providers) also includes OER support.

Public Televison (PBS) (didn’t catch speakers name) have an interest in creating material for learners age 2-8, current programme mentions OER by name.

* Susan Patrick, President and CEO, iNACOL
iNACOL (http://www.inacol.org/) is a non-profit advocacy organisation looking at supporting online learning at K12. She has a particular interest in using OER to benefit students at this level – posing the question of how OER messages can be pulled together consistently, she saw this as a policy issue around terminology (eg around the use of the word “free”). She suggested a number of possible terms that could be consistently used within an OER definition (“non-obstructive licences so we can share access and collaborate”) as different advocates lobby in different places.

* Dave Zook, Chair, B&D Consulting
http://www.bakerdconsulting.com/professionals/displaybio.aspx?id=CFE6315AD4CB…
Has an interest in open access to research and OER and works as an advocate to policy makers concerning a variety of issues. Three key themes that have emerged for him in this work are a need to focus on the outcomes of OER release, a need to “go negative” on the current system of access to materials, OER as a solution to problems – access, learning beyond textbooks (will become a brand for OER advocacy) … Currently focused on K12 OER, moving in to higher education. Requested a contribution around evidence and a research – to turn into “lore” for advocacy.

* Jim Fruchterman, CEO, Benetech
Benetech (http://www.benetech.org/) Silicon Valley’s intentionally non-profit organisation exists to remedy market failure, sees OER as a way of providing what the market does not. Route 66 to Literacy (scenic route to literacy) developed as a CC online curriculum, using CC images, as a social enterprise. Bookshare is an online library available to US students with disability after a $25 set up fee and a $50/year subscription and explicitly allows for format transitions for accessibility (standard ebook licences fear piracy so do not allow this). Initially funded by silicon valley companies, Bookshare won a federal competition for $32million. Two OER initiatives: state-adopted K12 open text books made fully accessible, and partnership with Flatworld knowledge to make their books accessible. Particular focus on accessibility of graphics.

Problems they are facing – OER is not standardised, would like to see OER use the same standards as the publishing industry. Some students who would benefit from Bookshare are not eligible (eg those who are undiagnosed or cannont afford fees).

Questions (responses to various ones) and closing comments. Publishers have standardised on an an XML variant called ePoP, it would be good if OER could use this. Unobstructive licenses are a term which has allowed policy makers to understand OER. “Sharing” language can often be a stumbling block due to a culture (and policy areas) around not sharing. But legislation hopes to change at least the frameworks and guidance around sharing. Initially we had to create content because there was nothing to share, now we need to build communities of practice that can share. Broadband access (and school to home internet connections) can solve the digital divide and provide better access to OER.

(this text licensed under CC-BY 2.5 (UK) – these are my personal notes from the sessions, and any errors or omissions are my fault)

#oerhf notes part 1 – Hal Plotkin and day 2 opening.

We opened with an introduction to the conference and to Yale by Diana Kleiner of OpenYale – Diana’s background is in architecture so we got an excellent overview of Yale’s campus and buildings. We also saw an introduction to the conference cloudworks (http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2053) from Patrick McAndrew of the UK Open University. It was announced that next year’s conference will be in Half Moon Bay, about 50m north of San Francisco.

Barbara Chow opened the conference by providing a presentation outlining the central themes and sessions of the conference, emphasising the global and mixed-sector nature of the conference. She noted that the update from the Hewlett Foundation on future work will be first thing tomorrow, and that the themes of today would be around public policy in OER.

Vic Vuchic (who has an OER programme management role in Hewlett) offered an overview of OER in 2009 and predictions about 2010. 2009 was a record year for the availability of OER funding, with investment from the Gates Foundation, Lumina, MacArthur, Connexions etc – a lot of activity at the federal and state level in the US, international government initiatives in Turkey, Holland and the UK. He also highlighted the increasing use of OER as monitored by HF grantees, including a 113% increase in searches for “oer”. 2010 sees continued development of open textbook (eg California are currently in phase 2 of a programme, the development of core textbooks for community colleges). There will also be a growth in distribution channels (iTunes U, YouTube Edu), but it is noted that we need to ensure that these offer the benefits of true openness. On a Rogers innovation curve, the OER movement is about to cross the chasm into the mainstream. He concluded with the suggestion that we needed to think about consistency (of quality, approach) as a model for OER advocacy.

Hal Plotkin (http://www.halplotkin.com), a senior policy advisor in the US Education Department, gave the opening keynote. I caught up with him yesterday regarding what happened with the $100m 10-year OER programme announced in the early days of the Obama administration. It turns out that due to budgetary pressures, this didn’t actually start last year, but there is still great support from the president and within the Education Department (a number of policy appointees were drawn from the OER community, all of whom had been at one point Hewlett OER grant holders). We shared over dinner yesterday the perils of being in public policy and waiting for permission to make announcements!

In his keynote he outlined his belief that we are at a “tipping point” into openness in education from a model of exclusion to a model of wide access, and that the OER movement (in particular the early work of Cathy Casserly and Mike Smith) will constitute the first two chapters of the book that will one day written about this. He started the presentation drawing on his early life as a high school “push-out” (he protested about the term “drop-out”) and his early career in journalism and at Foothills Community College. His early interest in “public domain learning materials” sparked his work (initially in Foothills) in what became the OER movement.

The recently passed SAFRA bill on student support which introduced direct lending via institutions to students (http://edlabor.house.gov/blog/2009/07/student-aid-and-fiscal-respons.shtml) was a part of the infamous US healthcare bill and subject to a great deal of commercial lobbying. However, during this process the previously announced OER funds (which were to be taken from the savings achieved via direct lending) were lost as institutions moved to direct lending voluntarily thus dropping the anticipated savings that were to be used in this way. The savings remaining were used to increase the Pell grants to students.

$2bn of unallocated funds were identified in the Recovery Act and Trade Adjustment Act: $500m dollars a year for programmes supporting “dislocated workers” (defined as workers who lost their jobs due to international pressure). The Department are still finalising plans for the use of these funds, but Hal noted that materials developed under the Act would also meet the needs of a wider pool of open learners. Because of strong support for OER in the White House other funding will also be identified for OER related work.

The US government see the way out of current financial difficulties as to invest in the skills and capacities of citizens, enabling the recreation of shared prosperity. And see OER as an important part of this.

The Hewlett Foundation are formal advisers on the creation of the federal OER programme. He asked delegates to share ideas around this with Vic Vuchic – who along with Barbara Chow will be working closely with Hal and his team.

He concluded that “we are the people we have been waiting for, and our work has just begun”.

(this text licensed under CC-BY 2.5 (UK) – these are my personal notes from the sessions, and any errors or omissions are my fault)