Quite often, the best part of attending a CPD or professional event has to do with the conversations that happen between sessions or during coffee. While ‘bumping’ into Terry Maguire (@TerrymagNF) recently, we played around with some ideas resulting from the focused research project which I had an opportunity to lead on Learning Resources and Open Access in Ireland. She asked me to take a look to a particular project of interest to her: the Open Educators Factory and give her some feedback. So as to (openly) practice what we preach, here I go with my two cent for what they are worth!
The project, funded by the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR), is a research effort based on the premise that true progress in terms of openness in higher education requires a major cultural change in the mindset of all stakeholders, thus creating an Open Educational Resources (OER) ecosystem (quoting the report Foundations for OER Strategy Development). The stepping stone for a sustainable change to happen starts with users awareness of OER, their benefits and costs. In doing so, the Open Education Factory project believes that the cornerstone for this cultural change to happen are educators. They claim (fairly or not) that University educators (meant as professors, lecturers and tutors) represent in fact the biggest “resistance” to the Open Education revolution – mainly because they typically fear that their role might be undermined by open approaches and because they do not have a full understanding of the potential of Open Education – and at the same time are the ones that could contribute the most to the adoption of Open Education practices from a genuine bottom up perspective.
These fundamental claims seemed worthy of further investigation so, after reading through their Wikipedia entry, I went on to experiment with their self-evaluation tool. Firstly, I think it is an exercise of honesty to confess that my own ‘openness’ scores are not in the top of the scale by any means, specially around the area of open assessment practices, so I take on board some of the message. I agree in principle with Terry that the concept is interesting (nothing like a reflective exercise to get the ‘juices’ going and the follow up recommendations are useful for self-directed learning). However, I also noticed that it has had a limited usage base until now, it is somewhat Spanish-centric (for example in the way professional categories are described) and needs English proofing. Also the categories of assessment are not comprehensive. In definitive, it looked like a useful tool in a beta, rather than fully finished, version.
Despite these misgivings, I thought there was potential there to use from an educational developer perspective, and used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to introduce my Graduate Diploma class into the arena of open pedagogies. Last week I organised a two hour session in the context of the Technology Enhanced Learning module with a cohort of 11 academics with varied representation of disciplines, seniority and blended learning practices. I framed the session with an exposition of the national debate around open pedagogies (including recommendations in the National Forum’s Digital Roadmap) and some of the findings from our OER research project. Then, participants were invited to take the self-evaluation tool. Although in two or three cases they scored at the top of some of the scales in terms of ‘openess’, results were largely between 1 and 2, representing a low to moderate adoption of open educational practices. I then distributed them in two groups according to their scores and set up the scene for an Oxford debate, in order to argue around the motion that ‘any third level lecturer should aspire to be an open educator’. In other to introduce an element of cognitive dissonance, I allocated those with the lower ‘openness’ score to the ‘for the motion’ team, and those that had scored higher (i.e. those more familiar with open education practices) to the ‘against’ the motion. The debate was very insightful as well as a bit of fun as we had a lawyer in the room who shamelessly quoted several copyright acts to the amusement of his colleagues. Not surprisingly, the Open Educators Factory opening self-stated aim to explore how to transform university teachers from “agents of resistance” into “agents of change” for openness in education caused a high level of discomfort and controversy. Interestingly, the final result of the debate (which we managed through an audience vote) seems to show a high level of agreement with the premises of the Open Educators Factory, despite the critical views expressed.
In summary, an interesting exercise that has enabled me to frame this module from the perspective of the need to share our practices and embed an element of peer observation in the design of the assignment. For anyone interested, the slides of the session are available here Towards open pedagogy.