OER: the cowboy gospel? #altc2011

“A lot of you need churchin’ – And some of y’all need birchin’ “

I was subject to significant ribbing regarding how easily the role of banjo playing, bible thumping, traveller preacher man came to me. In a session with more and weirder accents than a Bulgarian PC keyboard, what I said in a vignette of the old west was fairly close to the kind of thing I say anyway – as I think, in a way, it was for all of us.

We chose our roles freely – Amber the sheriff, Helen the gadabout, Dave the settler and me. And at many points during the panel session it was difficult to tell whether we were in character or not. Talking about William Tyndale to Diana Laurillard whilst dressed as an C19th preacher was, probably, the oddest thing I’ve done at a conference since – er – talking to Diana Laurillard about guitar tab and OLGA at #OER11 (note to self: maybe do some “proper” conference presentations one day?).

(image: with thanks to Jackie Carter)

To me, questions around the lasting place of OER as a concept were most interesting. There seemed to be general agreement that the gains in knowledge, experience and understanding we had made via the OER experience were permanent, and were a lasting part of the landscape we are cultivating beyond the frontiers of academic publishing. Whether we would continue to be using it as a term in future seemed more open to question… @ajcann and others argue (and argue convincingly) that OER is not, and should not be, a demand side term. They are right.

But on the supply side it is a useful bundle of concepts, and provides a focal encapsulation of a number of issues that academia (and I would argue, wider society) is struggling with. My contention was that OER was a symptom of a wider systemic issue, which takes in publishing, the idea of the public intellectual, online life, online practice and information as a right. As long as the machinations of legislators and company lobbyists keep propping up the bodies of the dead business models, we will need something like OER as an alternative. If we’re getting Hegelian about it, what is likely to emerge is a series of compromises that will require us “open evangelists” to sup with the devil and the (printer’s?) devils themselves to put down the pitchforks and open the gates a little.

As long as the aggravating conditions are still there, the symptom will be there in some form. Maybe we’ll be hurting our hosts in other places in the future, expanding fair use, improving citation… but there is no cure for us. And if left unchecked, we will do the system some real damage. It took nearly 400 years between Roman persecution of Christians, and the Romanisation of Christianity with the conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Thessalonica. We’ll be faster, though no-one will know the day or the hour when the publishers and the authors they exploit finally convert to openness.

Multimedia-wise there’s a full (if rough) audio recording of the session (which covers an amazing amount of serious ground alongside the cowboyLOLs), courtesy of @easegill and wonderful #ds106radio, on soundcloud. And @jamesclay offered a startling ALT Live Beta video interview with the four of us in full western regalia, complete with banjo music. I suspect there is more video to come from the session too. And of course the trailer. All of it brought to you by CC-BY!  

Thinking beyond edupunk and eduprog, Amber asked “have we invented ALT country?”

This post represents my own views, not those of my employer. It is available under a CC-BY license.

The death of the university? – a video for #cetis10


“What do we need in the wasteland?” narration (Mark Stiles)

“Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” (public domain)

“What do we need in the wasteland?” full mix (Mark Stiles/FOTA)


 Images Used
The Mortarboard of Damocles – Renoir_Girl on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
End of a Building – Iwouldstay on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Miller Avenue Abandoned Library – Aaron.michels on Flickr (cc-by)
Coming Down – Fatemeh on Flickr (cc-by-nc)
Gloucester Technical College – Nickserabi on Flickr (cc-by)
Demolition of the Old Student Center –  Spike 51551 on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Arts E inside ground floor – Ephemerol on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Broken Windows – TheGiantVermin on Flickr (cc-by-sa)

OER futures and Universality, Inc. #altc2010

(these are my own views and not those of my employer, or of programmes and projects I am responsible for. This post is available under a CC-BY license)


In working with Sheila MacNeill, Li Yuan and Heather Price (nee Williamson) in preparing our workshop at ALTC2010 (slides) on trends and scenarios in OER, I was challenged to flesh out the following scenario:


“the radical change model in which a global university appears to serve the different needs of the learners through open access to course materials, learner support and assessment”


This was one of four, ranging from a status quo model in which OER was simply an adjunct to an institutionally focused model, on  to seeing OER as a means of facilitating institutional credit transfer, and (excitingly) to OER as a spur to widespread institutional collaboration. So clearly my scenario was on the neo-liberal nightmare edge of the spectrum.


Predicting the future is not the kind of thing I generally enjoy. I feel that I understand the present and the recent past so poorly that anything I could come up with is based more a hunch than the result of any proper analysis of trends and patterns. Unlike other future gazers, I admit this,


But I ended up with a business model that was both plausible and terrifying; contemplating “Universality Inc” where OERs are a primary means of learning alongside peer support and automatic formative assessment, with other “optional services” (like tutorials, practicals, examinations and qualification/graduation) available for a fee. Academics, in this nightmarish vision, were mainly paid to produce OERs to draw customers in to pay for other services, and employers had enough input into the curriculum to save on corporate training costs.


I frightened myself.  I stared in to the abyss and saw things that cannot be unseen.


The only thing to do seemed to be to make a pretend corporate video, featuring the range of fine acting talent you can find around the JISC offices on a Tuesday lunchtime.


Enjoy (and come along to the session in room ALTCT at 10:30 on Thursday 9th if you want to discuss).


(if anyone wants the raw materials from the video for reuse please leave a comment and I will send you anything you need. Oh, and please don’t build Universality for real. If you do, I waive the attribution part of the license. I want no part in this.)


Update: With thanks to Barbara Dieu, this video is now available with English and Brazillian Portugese subtitles