Open Education at fOSSa conference

Last week I had the pleasure to participate in the free/open source software in academia (fOSSa) conference organised by the French INRIA. The topics of the conference covered from Open Education to Open Science, Open Design and Free Software. In this post I’ll share some reflections on the topic of Open Education.

Some of the speakers included Sophie Touze, who I met a few years ago in a workshop organised by the EC where we were invited to co-define the future of Higher Education in the context of Open Education by the year 2030. Sophie nowadays is the VP of the Open Education Consortium (OEC), which was started by MIT when it started to publish their learning materials online as so called Open Courseware (OCW).

Domi Enders is the founding director of a project called Open Assembly. It allows its users to create collections of learning materials and activities and share and reuse them. Domi showed me the platform and it impressed me that it seemed very practical in many ways. For example one can quickly import existing resources from Wikiversity, MIT, etc And the collections have useful icons and can be managed very flexibly. While it is focused on educators of formal educational systems, it seems very useful as well for informal settings. As social enterprise with three staff members her business model is to run paid projects with schools which allows them to accompany the educators and encourage them to open up their learning trajectories and share them with other users. The platform however is kept closed in terms of its software, which I discussed with her. They are already developing it on github (in a private repo) based on the Django framework. Opening the repository and adding a free license would be some first simple steps in a larger strategy to become a really important platform (I would also suggest to devise a community governance that oversees the platform development). She was definitely interested, but still somewhat afraid of how that would affect her business opportunities. There are huge opportunities for her and her community.

Ryan Merkley, the CEO of Creative Commons, discussed the growth of the CC licensed works and challenges that lie ahead, such as indexing more granularly what kind of works are CC licensed. The 2014 State of the Commons shows interesting details, and the coming years they hope to add more to that.

One thing that came back in the discussion panel and during informal talks was the lack of a platform for collaboratively editing and remixing open educational resources. Of course there is Connexions, and now OpenAssembly and some other platforms, but they all miss important elements. Think of what git based platforms like github are for code, there’s nothing like that for educational materials. One crucial element in my opinion is the parallel versioning history, where you can fork and merge back into one of its branches. That is powerful for collaborative development, and in particular for educational materials, where educators should be able to reuse much, while still wanting their own version. That’s what we had foreseen in the blueprints for such platform when we worked on SELF (2006-2008. Apart from that, a distributed nature where many servers can connect and form the knowledge network and with powerful quality metrics, mostly inferred automatically from how people use and reuse materials. Maybe it’s time to digg up the R&D we did some 8 years ago on this subject. In any case, I leave you here with the main deliverables, with the hope that other people make use of these ideas (see in particular D5, D6 and D8).

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