#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)