Wednesday, August 7, 2013

AC/DC Snakes & Week Two of the MoMA MOOC

For our week 2 assignment, we have been asked to "Browse through MoMA's online Collection and choose an image that inspires you in some way. Research some information about the work of art using and/or other online sources. Please upload a thumbnail image of your selected artwork by using the "Attach an Image" option. [Snip] respond to these questions: What drew you to this work of art? What information were you able to find out about this work? If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students? "
Parreno, 2010: AC/DC Snake
[personal sketch]

I chose 'AC/DC Snakes by Philippe Parreno. Since I probably don't have the appropriate permission to post MoMA's image of this work here, I'm posting instead my own drawing of the piece so you can see what I'm talking about.

What drew you to this work of art?

Simply, its appearance, the visual impact it had on me. This work establishes bonds to my personal experience in several ways. First is its composition of familiar objects in a familiar setting. Second is the way the artist has used found objects to create a complex and meaningful form, reminiscent to me of pre-industrial art like the inukshuk produced by Inuit. And finally I am compelled by the artist’s recognition that some of these digital-age artifacts have anthropoid characteristics, with electrical sockets forming immediately recognizable faces. This perception has enabled the artist to construct a post-industrial art form that is strongly reminiscent of the pre-industrial totem poles of native americans of western North America.

What information were you able to find out about this work?
From the MoMA website:

"Philippe Parreno (French, born 1964)
AC/DC Snake 2010
Date:  2010
Medium:  Multiple of electronic adapters
Dimensions:  overall (irreg.): 16 5/8 x 5 1/4 x 6 5/8" (42.3 x 13.4 x 16.8 cm)"

From The Serpentine Gallery:
"On the occasion of the first solo exhibition of Philippe Parreno in a public gallery in the UK, the Serpentine Gallery is delighted to present two limited edition works by the artist.

"Philippe Parreno (born Algeria 1964) is an internationally acclaimed French artist known for creating works that question the boundaries between reality and fiction, working in a diverse range of media including drawing, sculpture and film.

“AC/DC Snakes likewise give tangible form to a phenomenon that would otherwise be invisible. A group of electrical plugs and connectors from different parts of the world are linked together making manifest the hidden currents of electricity that enable global communication and exchange.”

"AC/DC Snakes, 1995-2010
Electrical plugs and adapters
Edition of 20
£2,100 excl. VAT (£2,520 incl. VAT)"
“Philippe Parreno is a French artist and filmmaker who lives and works in Paris, France. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Grenoble from 1983 until 1988 and at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en arts plastiques at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris from 1988 until 1989.”

The Wikipedia article goes on to demonstrate the extremely wide range of media that Parreno has used to express his creativity. His series of AC/DC Snakes, produced between 1995 and 2010 is interesting in that the final works appear to consist both of the original structural assemblages as well as a series of prints (possibly giclée) created by photographing the original constructions. The MoMA piece appears to be on of the 3-dimensional originals rather than one of the prints.

If you were to teach with this work, what aspects would you like to introduce to your students?
  • -artist’s materials
  • -artist’s apparent intentions
  • -artist’s apparent sources of inspiration
  • -students’ perceptions
  • -students’ associations
  • -students’ emotions (feelings)
  • -colors & tonality
  • -3-dimensionality
  • -relationship to unseen forces (electron flow)
  • -what would students do with same materials
  • -what similar kinds of assemblages have they seen
  • -what similar kinds of similar assemblages would they create

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Looking At Art, The MoMA Way

I've just this week started a MOOC given by the education staff at MoMA. It's called Art & Inquiry and the instructor is Lisa Mazzola. I'm already finding lots of good resources to improve my skills at inquiry- and object-based learning.

One of the resources made available to participants is a MoMA worksheet with the heading 'Questions About Art.' It's a list of 5 questions you can apply to any work of art, and perhaps to any museum object. So I thought I'd try it out, with the results you see here below:

MoMA Worksheet: Questions About Art - Glass paperweight

1. Describe the object. Think about line, color, texture, pattern, and shape. Can you figure out what it is made of, or how it was made?

This is a rounded, largely transparent object that contains an opaque magenta structure internally. It’s about 3 inches (7-8 cm) tall. Also seen internally are several elongate, club-shaped, transparent structures with what appear to be thick transparent walls. These look like air bubbles.

The general shape is an elongate oval or ovoid, with the wider end flattened so that it sits without rolling on a flat surface. The surface of the object is very shiny and feels hard; it is also heavy and cool to the touch, meaning it is probably made of glass.

The texture of the opaque, central, colored mass appears flat (matte), not shiny, but the internal bubbles appear shiny. The colored shape is irregular but roughly cylindrical with a wider base and a rounded top. It appears to be translucent internally so that the color is seen to be a thin external shell which swirls around the central part, with several gaps allowing one to see inside.

Since it is made of glass, it had to be made with high-heat process such that all of the parts were molten. It is easy to see how the large external globe could have been made by twirling a lump of molten glass until it assumed an elongate spherical shape, but not at all clear how the colored mass and the bubbles were embedded internally.

2. What do you know about this object? What is familiar? What is unfamiliar?

This was sold as a glass paperweight and the spherical shape and flattened bottom surface are familiar and similar to other glass paperweights. The elongate, oval shape of this one, however, is unfamiliar, as most of the other glass paperweights I have seen are almost perfectly spherical. The internal inclusions in this one are unfamiliar - I’ve never seen anything like this in a paperweight before.

3. List words or ideas that come to mind when you look at this object. Why does this object make you think about those words?

Hard, crystal, shiny, depth, swirl, heavy, mass, solid - largely because of its physical composition.

Egg, egg yolk, alien - because of its form.

Mysterious - what is that magenta mass inside doing? Is this an explosion stopped in mid-expansion by a process of crystalization? Why is it giving off bubbles? Is it getting ready to hatch?

4. What associations can you make from it? Why?

Association with all glass paperweights, going back through the history of glass-making (assumed function).

Association with papers, desks, writing (assumed function).

Association with eggs, hatching, unfamiliar life-forms (form + imagination).

5. What questions would you like to ask about this object? Can you guess at the answers to any of them?

Exactly how was the magenta mass inserted into the crystal ovoid; how were the bubbles created? (No clue)

Why did the artist create this particular form? Did she intend any of the associations with eggs that I imagine? (Probably the form arose as a pure outcome of process. Although artistic choices probably guided steps in making the work along the way, the artist may not have known exactly what it was going to look like until it was finished.)

6. In one sentence, describe the most interesting thing about this object.
Because of its mass, transparency and perfect ovoid form, this object is so unlike any everyday physical object that I want to hold it, just to savour the strangeness of its physical presence.

[Paperweight by Heather Konschuh, from The Gallery Shop at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery]

Monday, April 22, 2013

Literacies for Open Learners

Open learning takes place on the world wide web. So in order to develop the following list of necessary or desirable literacies for online learners, I have gone back to basics. Open learners will never be effective learners until the basics of existence in the online
environment become second nature. Each literacy suggested here consists of a set of sub-skills, each of which forms a necessary component of the larger literacy.
  • Basics of cloud computing: server/client network concept, using secure passwords, keeping track of passwords, backing up server hosted data, keeping track of downloaded materials
  • Effective browser use: especially opening new material in a new tab, bookmarking, use of browser plug-ins
  • Effective search engine use: predictive searching, boolean searching, search filters, chain or radiative searching, criteria for critical analysis (discernment)
  • Online notetaking: Google Drive/Docs, Diigo, Pearltrees, Dig, Evernote, etc.
  • Understanding online environments: recognizing navigation bars, using the cursor to find hyperlinks on the page, exploratory strategies, understanding redundancy, you can't break it! - learn by touching
  • Visual communication: image/film/sound interpretation, image/film/sound re-use & re-mixing, embedding media, using online media/communication tools
  • Comfort with social networking tools: blogs, Twitter, forums, social media sites
  • Collaborative skills: contributing, sharing, constructive criticism, courtesy, negotiation, summarizing, editing
  • Ability to filter & focus: scanning abundance, selecting & prioritizing critical items, blocking chaotic noise to focus on one task at a time
This list has been devised to include only those literacies that are directly related to the open aspect of open learning. Some, of course, are useful with other forms of learning as well. A couple of aspects of this list were added after reading the list offered by Jenkins et al. (2009), but those usually fit as a sub-skill under one of my more general literacy categories.

Developing these literacies for open learners would best be accomplished by offering a cMOOC (or perhaps several cMOOCs) that allowed exploring and mastering each of these areas in turn.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. and Weigel, M. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Chicago, IL, The MacArthur Foundation. Also available online at (Accessed 22-April-2013).

[This posting is for Activity 24 (Week 6) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text and illustration are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The earth photo is in the public domain.]

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Contribution of Wikis to Open Education

 According to Wikipedia, "A wiki is a website which allows its users to add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser usually using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor. Wikis are powered by wiki software. Most are created collaboratively." And they should know.

The first wiki was created prior to 2000 and utilized Perl software, writing files directly to a web server using the common gateway interface (CGI). Many later versions have been developed using various combinations of server-side software and database backends. One website ( lists 140 different versions. The majority of them are open-source software and many have been created in collaborative communities.

At first sight the fact that one wiki user can edit the contribution of another may seem to be a problem. The better wikis, however, get around this by versioning, that is maintaining a historical record of every version of a page, throughout all the edits that have taken place since the page was created. Thus any earlier version of a page can be examined as well as (usually) an indication of who supplied contributions or modifications, and when.

Wikis can be created and operated in many ways, but there are two characteristics that can make any wiki valuable for open learning:
  1. publically available on the world wide web
  2. configured to allow anyone to allow anyone to edit the pages
The result is a collaborative platform for writing and exchanging resources and resource links that is open to anyone. Clearly this type of platform is fundamental both to openness in education and to collectivist learning processes.

Many contemporary LMEs incorporate a wiki as a medium of learner exchange. And many open-source software development projects rely on wikis for collaborative compilation of user manuals as well as answering user queries. Perhaps the largest and most successful open-learning wiki is

The single weakness that most wikis have had in the past was the requirement for using a simple, but often unfamiliar, mark-up language. Learning how to use yet another kind of system to post material on the web has been a barrier for some. Fortunately, of late many wikis are starting to incorporate standard WYSIWYG editors of the type used by blogging software.

Wikipedia entry: (Accessed 19-April-2013)

[This posting is for Activity 22 (Week 6) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The cartoon is by Michel Kichka]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

R-Learning - Rhizomatous?

The video below is of Dave Cormier explaining rhizomatic learning. It's well worth watching and I think rhizomatic learning is an important concept. The worst thing
about it for me is its name. In botany there are many terms derived from the Greek word 'rhiza' for root, but the majority of them do not even refer to true roots but identify instead a variety of different 'root-like' structures. When one attempts to derive a metaphor from the existing confusion of botanical terminology, further mystification and misunderstanding are almost inevitable, especially if the learning process being discussed is challenging to explain. Thus, I would prefer to use a more neutral and connotion-free term like R-Learning.

To respond to some questions on this topic posed for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the course Open Education (H817Open, #h817open):

1. Were you convinced by rhizomatic learning as an approach?
Yes, I think it's an important concept to have been recognized and an important learning approach to be conscious of. But it seems to me that r-learning is the appropriate approach  only in very special situations. Because the learning outcomes are not known beforehand, and are in fact created by the group during the process, the majority of prospective learners will not be able to handle it. Like some aspects of theoretical physics, r-learning is just way too far outside our normal intuitive experience of the world to have any universal appeal.

2. Could you imagine implementing rhizomatic learning?
Yes, but not in any conventional educational system. It would work best with a group of people that share a common understanding of the process and a common objective in solving a complex problem.

3. How might rhizomatic learning differ from current approaches?
R-learning can give rise to radically new concepts, insights and intellectual break-throughs, all things that are rare in current approaches. It will have no syllabus and can not produce measurable results (apart from simply monitoring the activities of participants). In the absence of traditional learning, implementing r-learning might lead to creating a lot of largely ignorant geniuses - students with brilliant insights that are new and innovative for them, but of little use because they are not grounded in any depth of understanding of real-world issues and circumstances.

4. What issues would arise in implementing rhizomatic learning?
  • dealing with participants' fear of uncertainty
  • adequate background in traditional education of participants
  • competition and refusing to share by lurkers, along for the ride
  • knee-jerk right or wrong expectations
  • still must establish what this 'has to do with'
R-learning probably characterizes effective personal learning networks, but not any kind of formal education. It's not really part of the task of education. It's part of the toolset for exploring the totally new and the unknown. It should be great for think tanks, leading edge research organizations and all other groups dealing with complex domains.

[This posting is for Activity 20 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text and illustration (but not the video) are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grokking Museums

For #h817open, activity 19 of week 5, we have been asked to create a hypothetical connectivist course. Here's mine. Only Section 1 is elaborated in any detail...

Museum Studies 501: Grokking Museums

Section 0: Introduction to MS501
  • process; seeding the learning; digital literacy; connecting; building shared knowledge

Section 1: What is a museum?
Concept 1.1: Where did museums come from? Have they evolved?
  • -suggested resources: URL1, URL2
  • -suggested group activities:
  1. build a collaborative introduction to the history of museums on the course wiki; this can be in either prose or list format, but if the latter, add comments or explanations at the bottom of the list
  2. build a collaborative tree of online references to the history of museums on
  • your personal contributions: blog about what you think is the single most important historical event contributing to the rise of museums
Concept 1.2: What are the key elements in defining a contemporary museum?
  • suggested resources: URL1, URL2, URL3
  • suggested group activities: make a collaborative comprehensive list of defining elements of the contemporary museum on the course wiki; add an explanatory for each element of the list
  • your personal contributions: blog about what you think is the single most important element in the definition of a museum and why
Concept 1.3: Stretching the definition of museum
  • suggested resources: URL1, URL2
  • suggested group activities: make a collaborative list of new types of museums that have recently emerged on the course wiki; add comments or explanations at the bottom of the list
  • your personal contributions: blog about your choice of the single most important contemporary change in the definition of museums and why
Section 2: What Goes On in Museums?
Concept 2.1: what are the basic museum activities
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 2.2: museum jobs
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 2.3: considering a museum career
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 3: museum collections
Concept 3.1: the benefits of museum collections
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 3.2: collections & information management
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 3.3: museum research
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 4: engaging the museum's publics
Concept 4.1: museum exhibition
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 4.2: museum education
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 4.3: museum programs
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 5: museum management
Concept 5.1: strategic & business planning
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions

Concept 5.2: marketing
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 5.3: fundraising
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Concept 5.4: human resources
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Section 6: Museums in the 21st Century
Concept 6.1: environmental scan
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions

Concept 6.2: museum future trends
  • -suggested resources
  • -suggested group activities
  • -your personal contributions
Note to self: Blogger is not a very good place to try hierarchical lists
[This posting is for Activity 19 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The photo is by JamesF, CC License.]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Equipping Learners for an Abundance of Knowledge

Weller (2011) claims that the deveopment of the internet has made knowledge
abundant. Certainly if you look at the results of a Google search on any particular topic, it is clear that there is an awful lot of information out there. But I am inclined to wonder if truly useful knowledge is really all that abundant. If it's anything like the OER we studied earlier in the course (#h817open), it may be 1) hard to find, 2) of uneven quality.

In trying to develop a pedagogy of abundance, one of the questions Weller asks is how do we equip learners to cope with abundant free knowledge.

My own view is that the most immediate student need is not primarily one of critical analysis. Critical analysis of web materials is both labour-intensive and subjective, and it is a competency that is also very difficult and time consuming to teach.

When students need knowledge they need it fast. Normal critical faculties help in separating the nuggets from the gravel in the pan, as does the fact the good search engines already have a certain degree of critical analysis built in - those knowledge items found to be most useful by the most web surfers tend to appear near the top of the list of search results. The more immediate question for the majority of students is, how do we find a pan of gravel that is likely to contain nuggets in the first place?

I suspect that the answer to satisfying this need is instead of teaching facts, teach practical competencies and provide guidance:
  1. Teach effective internet search techniques (Does anyone remember in the old days how we had to be trained to use the university card catalogue?); with serious, in-depth search competency, each individual can activate their own professional support or 'just-in-time' learning system.
  2. Teach the use of social networks for problem solving; use social networks as the basis for a mutual learning network; the peer members of learning networks can assist in critical analysis of search results to pick out the nuggets.
  3. Instead of acting as a content expert, the teacher should learn to act as a filter guide; that is, don't find the stuff for them, but help them find it themselves; suggest what search strategies, even what search terms are likely to be most productive in any given situation.
It seems to me that the best way for anyone to cope with bewildering quantities of information is to learn the two basic competencies of filtering and harnessing peer assessment.

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. Also available online at (Accessed 10-April-2013).
[This posting is for Activity 17 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The photo is in the public domain.]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Personal Learning Network - What's Up With That?

Thinking about the term 'personal learning network' (PLN) in a little more depth...

Let's take a look at each of the three words in turn. And let's start with the noun, network. This word has a reasonably firm meaning in contemporary usage. A network is a set of entities that are connected by some form of tangible links. That, is each entity in the set is connected to one or more of the other entities by a link.

The nature of the entities and the links can vary widely. The concept is a useful one and it has been widely applied. In the contemporary world we can recognize, for instance, networks of television stations, computer networks, and ecological networks in natural communities. In human social relations we often speak of a network of friends or a support network. One's support network is commonly understood to be a group of people that provide support, in terms of things like advice, sympathy, understanding, or financial assistance, during times of stress or simply coping with the everyday challenges of personal and professional life.

Then comes the adjective, learning. The concept of a learning network is easily seen to have direct parallels with a support network. A group of learners is connected by some sort of communication channels, and from time-to-time one in the group learns from another. In support mode, one member may assist another with understanding. Hopefully sometimes two or more members of a learning network even build some knowledge or understanding together. But how far can we extend the parallel between a support network and a learning network?

One aspect of human social networks that is seldom considered is reciprocity. In various forms of physical network, the concept of reciprocity is implicit. In a computer network, it is not sufficient to note that all of the computers can exchange information with a single computer. Instead it is understood that each of the computers in the network can exchange information with each of the other computers. Each of the links supports a two-way flow of information, that is, reciprocal exchange.

But the commonly understood notion of a human support network is that a single individual calls upon a diverse group of other individuals for support in a variety of different situations. The individual seeking support may occasionally provide support to one of the others in the network, but that is not part of the support network definition. This understanding of the term network is me-centric. Reciprocity is not implicit.

So what about a learning network? As soon as we add the modifier 'personal,' it comes to seem like a me-centric support network, in existence simply to satisfy the needs of the individual at the center.  In contrast, we would expect a learning network to incorporate, by definition, the commitment that as my fellow learners support me when they can, so I will support them when I am able as well. It will be most powerful when the energies of all members are combined in achieving learning goals.

It seems, as a consequence, that use of the term personal learning network may tend to send the wrong message at least some of the time. A better term, perhaps, one that more clearly expresses the intention of learning networks, is mutual learning network.

Having dealt with terminology, let us turn to more practical questions surrounding the concept. Does a mutual learning network (MLN) ever exist? When did we humans first experience an MLN, and has the concept changed over time? To the first, I think, many of us can say, "Yes." Most of us have experienced a period, often short, when we were engaged in mutual learning. Probably not in a classroom, but maybe as members of a professional group dedicated to professional development for its members. The phenomenon even occurs in the workplace when office gossip serves to inform everyone in the company about the details of some impending change that has not been revealed or clearly explained by management.

When might this type of mutual support group have originated? Presumably mutual learning was one of the behaviours that gave early humans the edge when we co-existed in hunting groups or tribes. The first communication channel was speech. The faster everyone learned the latest tricks for capturing food or avoiding predators, the higher the fitness of the group. But MLNs probably became less pervasive, we might speculate, as socisl groups became larger and social structure or hierarchy was introduced. In complex societies, competition, it would seem, may well have supplanted mutual support as a strategy for success.

Yet mutual learning continues to crop up even today in special circumstances. It becomes particularly important for those who see life as demanding continually evolving reponses to a continually changing environment. These individuals will seek the ability to learn continuously over the course of a lifetime, the state of life-long learning. The age of computers and information overload has seemed to make learning ever more challenging in the twenty-first century because of the sheer volume of new knowledge being created every year. But at the same time digital technologies have provided many broad channels for information exchange with very low entry thresholds. Mutual learning networks are easier than ever to establish today, and they seem to offer one powerful solution to the challenge of sustaining life-long learning.

My conclusion is that although mutual learning networks have been with us almost since the dawn of human existence, they have undergone substantial change over the millennia. The communication channels that act as links between members of the network have changed, and the personal needs of members have evolved as well. Today's digital communications allow for ever larger networks and more frictionless delivery of support.

But digital communication has not solved the newest concern for MLNs. If they are to support life-long learning, how is membership to be sustained after the network is first created? What are the mechanisms for keeping members committed and involved over time? How can new members be recruited as old ones slip away to focus on other interests? There is still some important work to be done in finding answers to these questions.

[This posting is for Activity 16 (Week 4) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Monday, April 8, 2013

My definition of my Personal Learning Network (PLN)

An ever-changing, often widely-dispersed community of individuals providing, and inviting, lifelong learning support - a network of fellow learners.

Visualization of my personal learning network
[This posting is for Activity 15 (Week 4) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The network line diagram is by EmilJ, CC license.]

Of MOOCs, Models and Moebius: Comparing MOOCs

The specific history of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, is short. Ignoring
various precursor pedagogies, the first MOOC to be so labelled was held in 2008 (Wikipedia 2013). That first MOOC was driven by a connectivist philosophy, which in starkest terms means that teachers are facilitators and students create their own knowledge collaboratively, through the connectedness afforded by modern Web 2.0 platforms. The connectivist approach may be described as teacher-mediated. In this model, the teacher/instructor seeds the learning environment with concepts and invites students to undertake collaborative processes in support of their learning.

The traditional educational model has been termed behaviourist (Daniel 2012). In this model the teacher is seen as the holder of the knowledge and learning consists of students internalizing fragments of the knowledge as they are delivered by the teacher.

Interest in MOOCs as platforms for connectivist learning, labelled as cMOOCs by many, continues to the present, especially among educational theorists. In the popular mind, however, a new kind of MOOC, based on the behaviourist approach to education, has assumed dominance. These are the so-called xMOOCs, adopted by many large universities, especially in the United States. In a typical xMOOC, the behaviourist teacher/instructor provides a series of information fragments and requires students to submit periodic evidence that they have internalized this learning content satisfactorily.

Because of this brief history, the competing educational philosophies and the many economic and scale factors involved, "the precise function of the MOOC within higher education still remains unclear" (Knox et al. 2012).

MOOC Pros and Cons

Using for the moment the simple distinction noted above between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, it is possible to identify some broad strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches.

A cMOOC is highly accessible and promotes the discovery of new knowledge and of self-directed learning (Kop 2011). Achieving a state of self-directed learning is likely closely associated with the initiation of life-long learning. On the other hand, this type of MOOC has limited audience appeal, and is actively pursued primarily by those with a strong interest in educational theory or personal enlightenment. Because our traditional educational systems are largely behaviourist in structure, the cMOOC environment may be confusing and anxiety-raising for many students.

An xMOOC, by contrast, tends to confer technical knowledge and so is avidly pursued by large numbers of students who wish to improve their employment and/or earning prospects. Most people are comfortable with the xMOOC environment, even if they chafe at the spoon-feeding approach to learning. Sadly, however, xMOOCs do not lend themselves well either to the generation of new knowledge and insights or to the initiation of life-long learning. They, of course, are not truly open because work done by students is typically trapped within the registration wall (Parr 2013) and so not widely available.

Bases For Comparison of Existing MOOCs

In attempting to understand the basic nature of MOOCs and to assist in the determination of what may be the most productive way to use them to realize overall improvement in the effectiveness of education, it can be instructive to compare several existing MOOCs.

Even the most superficial comparison of MOOCs shows immediately that the distinction between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, other than as archetypes, is overly simplistic. The field is young and of interest to many. Large corporations, large universities and progressive educators all share uncertainty as to what potential impact this new form of education may have and what operational modes may lead to sustainability. As a result, all of the players are continually experimenting with the MOOC format and adapting it to better serve both philosophical and practical objectives. Some cMOOCs are adopting platforms or procedures typical of xMOOCs. Some xMOOCs are experimenting with broadening their offerings by incorporating some aspects of connectivist learning.

The Comparisons - Four MOOC Exemplars

Exemplar 1 - Change MOOC: We may expect this to be a 'dyed-in-the-wool' cMOOC, coming as it does from some of the founders of the concept. The technology platform is a unique, open-source LMS called grsshopper. It appears to be most similar to a wiki or a CMS, with a strong emphasis on aggregating and integrating external materials. The pedagogy of this MOOC appears connectivist in format and behaviourist in delivery (things happen at predictable times). This is a teacher-marginalized system. Its general approach and philosophy includes lots of invitational lecturers providing multiple seeds to learning. There appears to be a primary focus on text, but it's hard to tell as materials seem to be unavailable when the course is not actually being given.

Exemplar 2 - DS106 (Digital Storytelling): Ostensibly a cMOOC, this one depends on delivery using Canvas by Instructure, billed as a supposedly open-source LMS, but primarily, it seems, a fee-based cloud service. The pedagogy in this MOOC is connectivist in format and in delivery - materials are continuously available and student participation is invited on an anytime basis. This is a teacher-mediated system. The general approach and philosophy in DS106 includes many instructor seeds to learning and a focus on multimedia modes of communication.

Exemplar 3 - Gamification on Coursera: This is, without question, a pure xMOOC. It is delivered via the Coursera proprietary LMS platform. The pedagogy is behaviourist both in format and in delivery. This is a teacher-centered course. The general approach and philosophy used in Gamification includes a large body of information provided by the instructor, supplemented by material from external sources. Requirements for the delivery of quizzes and essays by students is rigid, although access to course materials is extended. There appears to be a balanced focus on text vs. visual forms of communication.

Exemplar 4 - E-Learning and Digital Cultures on Coursera: Bucking the trend, this was primarily a cMOOC, but based on the Coursera proprietary LMS platform. A hybrid, or blended MOOC in many respects, this course adopted a largely connectivist pedagogy with a behaviourist approach to delivery. Course activities were regularly scheduled as were student assignments. This MOOC was teacher-mediated, and course materials with links to student projects remain available to all who registered after the course finished. The majority of student-generated content remains publically available on the internet. Balance was achieved as well in general approach and philosophy - multiple instructors provided seeds to learning, with a heavy dependence on external sources. Both text and visual forms of communication were utilized.

Discussion & Conclusions

As suggested above, a simple division of actual MOOCs into xMOOC and cMOOC categories is insufficient to characterize what is happening in this field. In addition to aspects of the classic (i.e., two-year old) binary classification, one should also be looking at such factors as temporal characteristics of course delivery, multiplicity of instructors, method of seeding concepts, the balance between text and visual foci (that is, the extent to which digital literacy is favoured over print literacy), extent to which student collaboration is internal or external to the learning platform, extent to which the teacher/lecturer is marginalized, extent to which materials are available between sessions and level of dependence on external sources.

One observation made here appears to have escaped much attention previously. I have used the term 'seeding' the learning with concepts and examples. Here the term seeding has been used in the sense of "seeding the clouds" to initiate rain. In physico-chemical terms a seed is a minute particle or crystal, usually invisible, that serves as the foundation for the accumulation of additional particles, droplets or crystals until a large, visible structure has formed. In the educational context I use the term 'seed' to refer to the articles, videos and other digital artefacts that are introduced by a teacher/instructor to students in a MOOC, sometimes in association with a question. These learning 'seeds' then trigger the accumulation of collaborative comments, thoughts, and other reactions, including the creation of new digital artefacts, by the students. Learning seeds, then, may be seen as minute fragments of knowledge that can give rise to relatively larger and frequently innovative bodies of knowledge when incubated in the connectivist environment.

The comparisons above have largely ignored some of the more fundamental challenges to MOOCs making a major impact on education. Perhaps the two most significant are monetization, how can MOOC programs achieve financial stability, and certification, how can an institution be assured that the student being certified is the individual who has satisfied the course requirements. Coursera is making an effort to address both of these concerns with its new Signature Track program. This initiative claims to create a digital ID for students who pay a per-course fee (introductory rate of $39 US), consisting of photo-ID and a keystroke pattern signature. This approach, they feel, will allow for verified certification of student achievements, and incidentally establish a revenue stream at the same time (Rivard 2013). Signature Track is offered for the Gamification MOOC discussed earlier.

It is too early, I suspect, to determine exactly where we are on the Moebius strip of educational development. I cannot do better than to echo here, once again, the assessment of Knox et al. (2012),  "the precise function of the MOOC within higher education still remains unclear." That remains true today.


Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18 [online]. Available at (Accessed 2-April-2013).

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online],  (Accessed 2-April-2013).

Knox, J., Bayne, S., Macleod, H., Ross, J. & Sinclair, C. (2012). 'MOOC Pedagogy:
the challenges of developing for Coursera.' (Accessed 8-April-2013)

Parr, Chris. (2013) 'US Mooc platforms’ openness questioned.' Times Higher Education, 4-April-2013. (Accessed 8-April-2013)

Rivard, R. (2013) 'Free to Profit' Inside Higher Ed. 8-April-2013 (Accessed 8-April-2013)

Wikipedia (2013). Massive open online course.
(Accessed 8-April-2013)

[This posting is for Activity 14 (Week 4) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The post has been awarded the MOOC understanding badge displayed at the top. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Not MOOseums?

I have been interested in museums for a long time, with a special concern for museum effectiveness in offering open, informal or free-choice learning for the visitor. I've recently written about this (Barr 2013: online at

"There are plenty of fascinating things about museums. And one of the most intriguing is that during the 20th century anyway, museums have been one of the few places where adults (and children) could experience informal or free-choice learning. During that century, the educational mandate rose to become one of the primary goals of most museums."

But that museum focus has been almost entirely onsite. Museum learning has been mostly for those who walk through the doors.

"In spite of the speed with which museums embraced the world wide web, few of them seem to have become equally enthusiastic about the prospect of expanding their on-site educational activities into the online environment. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, including most of the mainstream educational institutions are taking up online learning, or E-Learning in a big way. The internet has meant that the potential museum visitor today has many [new] options for free-choice learning."

Combining the museum mandate with the learning potential of MOOCs, especially cMOOCs, seems to me like a natural. Why not MOOseums (massively open online museum learning).

All one would need is for existing museum education staff to gain some familiarity with cMOOC structure and develop some facility with digital literacy. The informative content is already available in the form of label text from a hundred past exhibits and the websites of not only their own but also dozens of sister institutions.

The connectivist learning opportunities offered through cMOOCs offer a whole new dimension to museum learning. As in other fields, the museum specialist staff can become facilitators instead of instructors. Group learning activities in this type of course are likely to far exceed the experience of learning on the museum visit alone.

The new MOOC experience should function as an "extension of the visitor experience for museums. The museum visitor who has enjoyed an online learning offering before arriving at the museum will not only come armed with a pre-ignited enthusiasm for seeing the actual artifacts, but can also spend more time examining and appreciating those artifacts and less time reading the wall-mounted didactics."

"The museum visitor who delves into online learning after the visit can re-kindle the excitement of the museum experience and be more highly motivated to undertake additional museum visits in the future."

[This posting is for Activity 12 (Week 4) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The museum logo is by Otterinfo, CC license]

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Benefits and Drawbacks of 'Big' and 'Little' Open Educational Resources

According to Weller (2011, 2012) open educational resources (OER) can usefully be characterized as 'big,' large integrated projects created by major institutions, or 'little,' small, discrete and idiosyncratic outputs from everyday research and teaching activities. From Weller's discussion it is clear that big OER and little OER share some traits in common. They also differ in many ways, with the interesting feature that their differences show a strong reciprocal relationship. In many instances, the strengths or benefits of one mirror the weaknesses or drawbacks of the other.
Here is a partial listing, as noted in Weller (2011):
  • -17K to 200K visits monthly
  • -large audiences
  • -high visibility
  • -clear, strong motivations
  • -high costs (money, time)
  • -high technical expertise ??
  • -high threshold to content production
  • -creativity & work
  • -isolated
  • -must consider audience demographics
  • -constained by project-focused method of working
  • -fine filter
  • -require a pre-established network to be most effective
  • -low costs (money, time)
  • -low technical expertise
  • -low threshold to content production
  • -creativity & fun
  • -includes many shareable artefacts that are outcome of normal university work
  • -networked
  • -practices can be embedded
  • -can be simple spin-offs of everyday academic activities
  • -consistent with with the bottom-up, unpredictable nature of internet innovation
  •  -no need to consider audience demographics
  • -coarse (open) filter
  • -no academic compromises
  • -high reuse potential
  • -requires comfort with technologies
  • -low level motivations, complex, murky, unpredictable
  • -low visitation, visibility
  • -smaller audiences
  • -yet, as niche products, long-tail theory (Anderson 2006) suggests equivalent impact to big OER
  • -needs lots of content to sustain a perception of value
  • -money & time costs overestimated
  • -require a pre-established network to be most effective
  • -needs empowerment and liberation by academic organizations
  • -requires changed promotion criteria
  • -need formal and informal recognition of value within academic institutions
Weller appears primarily interested in the value of little OER and the actions that can be taken to make them more viable. As a result, the lists above are somewhat skewed in the direction of extended detail in the characteristics of little OER. Most of the little OER drawbacks, it appears, will in fact become strengths if the academic environment in which they are generated can be modified. Strongly supported embedding of little OER creation in the normal academic workflow, he suggests, can make little OER a major force in the cause of open education.
Weller, M. (2011) ‘Public engagement as collateral damage’ in The Digital Scholar, London, Bloomsbury Academic. Available online at (Accessed 27-Mar-2013).
Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at (Accessed 10-Mar-2013)..
[This posting is for Activity 11 of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Friday, March 29, 2013

Models of Sustainability for OER

All OER have a life cycle: creation, publishing, repeated revision and reuse, senescence, death. Much effort and many resources have been expended on the creation and publishing of OER. The actual value of such resources, however, depends largely on the extent to which repeated revision and reuse can be sustained before the inevitable onset of senescence and death. The issue of sustainability is largely one of resources, and is a topic of considerable interest in the field of open education.

Wiley (2007) defined sustainability as "an open educational resource project’s ongoing ability to meet its goals." In considering the issue of how sustainability may be achieved, Wiley identified three models that he characterized as follows:
  1. The MIT model: "highly centralised and tightly coordinated in terms of organisation and the provision of services, relying almost exclusively on paid employees"
  2. The USU model: "hybrid of centralisation and decentralisation of both organisation and services, and work is distributed across some employed staff and a number of volunteers"
  3. The Rice model: "almost fully decentralised and volunteers provide almost all services"

Wiley's three models indicate a promising direction for consideration of how the sustainability of OER may be achieved, but in the mind of this reader this approach is over-simplified and preliminary. It seems evident that more factors then the ones Wiley identified - centralisation, coordination and funding - are involved.

Expanding upon Wiley's work, it may be possible to identify a longer list of more potentially quantifiable variables involved in the sustainability equation:
  • Institutional blessing
  • Institutional financial support
  • 3rd Party commercial drivers
  • Contributions by intra-university scholars
  • Contributions by scholars at other universities
  • Contributions by independent educators
  • Foundation support (either initial or ongoing)
  • Government support (either initial or ongoing)

Using these eight variables in a qualitative, rank-scaled sense (i.e., judging importance on a scale of 1 to 10) allows one to visualize a sustainability profile for various OER projects with the following general appearance. (Fig. 1)


Using the same variables it is possible to propose visualizing Wiley's (2007) three models in more detail. (Fig. 2)

These same eight variables can be tentatively scored for four OER projects (ChangeMOOC, Coursera, Jorum and OpenLearn), and compared visually with the Wiley models.  (Fig. 3)

A quick review of the online presence of these four projects, of course, is unlikely to provide sufficient information for an analysis in which one could have a great deal of confidence. The significant underlying drivers of OER project sustainability are seldom exposed to public view.

Nevertheless, the multivariate approach offers at least the possibility of a more balanced view than Wiley's models alone. Introducing eight variables into the situation, however, makes it more difficult to compare different sustainability profiles by simple inspection. Fortunately, statistics provides a number of multivariate clustering methods (see the Wikipedia entry) that can assist in this process. The results of one such analysis (blatantly ignoring non-normality of the data) produces the following result. (Fig. 4)

Here we see that including Wiley's three models together with the other four OER projects suggests the existence of three distinct similarity groupings. In Group 1, the USU model and OpenLearn are closest together, and they appear quite similar to the MIT model. Visual inspection suggests that the distinguishing features of this group are probably the high levels of institutional support and a strong dependence on intra-university contributors.  The Rice model is in a distinctly different grouping, showing closest resemblance to Change MOOC and Jorum. This group is probably defined largely by lower levels of institutional support and a much higher openness to contributors from other universities. Coursera, probably because of its commercial model, appears strongly dissimilar to all the others.

Wiley, D. (2007) On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher Education, Paris, OECD. Online at  (Accessed 26-March-2013).

[This posting is for Activity 10 of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Will I Use Creative Commons Licenses? (Activity 9: H817OPEN

I feel a great deal of moral support for the Creative Commons movement and for use of the CC license, for several reasons:
  1. If you want to get something widely used, understood and appreciated, make it freely available (and get credit too).
  2. If you have benefited from the use of freely available resources, you have an obligation to 'return the favour.'
  3. It is similar to the GNU license for open source software, which has provided such immense value to computer users.
If you are going to make something freely available for reuse, however, I agree with those (for example, Moller 2005) who argue that restricting use for commercial purposes is counter-productive. I take this view for several reasons:
  1. Preventing commercial use is very difficult to detect and expensive if not impossible to prohibit.
  2. What's the problem? You've already said it can be reused. Are you just against filthy lucre and private enterprise in any form?
  3. The GNU license for open-source software allows commercial reuse and this practice has resulted in many fantastic commercial products, like the Android operating system for smartphones.
  4. If someone has figured out a way to make money from your CC resource, then maybe you can learn from it and figure out how to do the same thing.
  5. Also, perhaps not surprisingly, I agree with all of the points made by Moller (2005).
Having said that, I will continue to make choices in the application of the CC license to my intellectual property. I will use it on occasion. Complete devotion to the 4Rs (reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) for intellectual property is possible for those who are salaried or who derive income from other sources. If as in my case, one depends in part for a living on the sale of intellectual property, then it seems clear that at least some creative products must remain proprietary.


Moller, E. (2005) The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons - NC License [online]. Available at (Accessed 24-March-2013).

[This posting is for Activity 9 of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license.]

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Activity #8: Creating an OER Course to Introduce Digital Skills

Estimated usefulness: G - quite useful;
M - moderately useful; B - not very useful
This activity was undertaken in an effort to determine how easily an open, online educational course could be created using only existing OER.


I began with a quick outline for a 5-week course, with the learning objectives for each week sketched in only lightly. It looked something like this:

Week 1. Bits & bytes
     -programming; basics of digital coding (bits, bytes, etc.); silicon chips
Week 2. The functional computer
     -computer operation; smartphones; car computers; etc.
Week 3. The internet; finding information
     -web surfing; online learning
Week 4. Digital literacy
     -image manipulation; blog writing; word processing; video; media editing
Week 5. The social internet
     -email; social media; forums

The intention was to offer a very broad introduction to basic digital skills for children in an English-speaking, developing nation, who were experiencing personal computers for the first time.

I then used the following list of searchable OER indices to provide candidate OER for use in each of the five weekly blocks.

OPEN-U Openlearn:
Rice Connexions :

Each of the six indices listed was searched in turn in order, starting at the top, to find at least three OER elements that could support the learning objectives of each of the five weeks. Once three candidate elements were identified for a particular week, that topic area was omitted from subsequent index queries. As a result, most of the time searching and most of the 'hits' came from indices higher on the list. As I worked down the list of indices, fewer gaps remained to be filled in my course outline.

Each OER identified as appropriate was briefly evaluated for potential suitability, using a 3-rank qualitative scale: G - good; M - medium; B - bad. Since most of the OER recovered were coarse-grained, that is full courses or modules rather than individual knowledge units, a complete inspection would have been impractical. Instead the OER description was used as a rough indicator for the estimation of potential suitability. If the description included mention of one of the learning objectives I had identified, I assumed that there would be one or more learning units within the course that could be used in my course, although it is unclear how much effort might have been needed to extract and de-contextualize them.


It proved possible to identify three potentially useful OER for the first four weeks of the 'Digital Skills' course, and only two for the final week. The quality of these 'hits' varied from week-to-week: Week 1 GGG; Week 2 MMM; Week 3 GGG; Week 4 MBM; Week 5 MB. Seven of the hits came from Jorum, six from MERLOT, and one from MIT/OCW. The search function for Ariadne appeared broken during the period I attempted to access this resource.

The quality breakdown of the 14 OER recovered was: G - 6/14 (42.9%); M - 6/14 (42.9%); B 2/14 (14.2%) (see pie-chart graph at the top of this posting).

The full dataset upon which these summary observations is based appears in the first comment to this post.

The search engines provided with some of the OER index sites could stand improvement. In some cases the databases are large and a search returns hundreds or thousands of listings. Further refinement of the search terms does not tend to reduce appreciably the number or diversity of listings returned. As a result, winnowing through the listings is tedious, and in most cases only the first three or four pages worth were reviewed for this project.

A review of Richardson (2013) suggests that although guidelines vary, accessibility of the OER indexed in the sites used for this study is reasonably good for access via modern browsers.

Discussion and Conclusion:

On the whole, the results of this exercise were somewhat disappointing. It would be nice if the estimated quality of the OER recovered had been higher. It would also have been preferable if more of the resources had not borne an extremely high contextual burden. Many of these resources were clearly developed for presentation to specific audiences, for example educators, or project managers, or software designers. In fact, half way through the project I wished I had named my course "An Introduction to Digital Skills in Education." Unfortunately, course development assignments do not work that way.

The most disappointing aspect of all is that the great majority of the OER that were discovered through searching the major indices are coarse-grained, full courses or modules, instead of fine-grained, learning units (= learning objects) with a very narrow focus and low context burden. In preparing an introductory course on digital skills for children in developing nations, it is not clear that the use of OER provides a more rapid application development approach than developing the necessary units from scratch.


Richardson, John (2013). Accessibility of Open Educational Resources. (Accessed: 21-Mar-2013).

This activity was undertaken as part of the open course #h817open

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Evil Empire: Key Issues Surrounding The Use of OER in Education


The Wikipedia definition: "Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly formatted and openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research purposes." ( Accessed: 18-Mar-2013)

On preliminary inspection, the creation and use of OER offers a potential solution to the global need for more educated people who are better equipped to cope with global problems like environmental quality, war, malnutrition and economic inequities, as well as to increase their own personal and community well-being. Some indeed, have expressed utopian expectations for OER.

"Education is a fundamental human right. It is the key to sustainable development and peace and stability within and among countries... [snip] The OER defined at the beginning of this article represents those resources needed most to achieve Education for All in the next 10 years [note capitalization]." (Johnstone 2005)

In spite of the apparent benefits flowing from OER, current experience has not matched earlier expectations (Hatakka, 2009). Several authors have identified specific issues with OER that apparently prevent them from becoming more successful, if success is defined as high levels of use and high levels of demonstrated satisfaction by users (Hatakka 2009, Hylén & Schuller 2007, Leinonen et al. 2009) These same papers have suggested a variety of potential responses to the problems identified.

Here I will attempt only to examine three key problems associated with the effective use of OER - barriers, quality and motivation - and with some of the solutions that have been proposed. I will also attempt to expand the discussion by comparing the OER movement with the immensely more successful (in my view) open-source software (OSS) movement (see the Wikipedia entry:

1. Barriers to Use

Individuals, educational systems and countries have so far failed to make extensive use of OER because of a number of barriers, both physical and perceptual. Physical barriers include the difficulty of finding appropriate OER for use in any specific educational setting, the quality of internet infrastructure and the availability of internet hardware accessible to individuals. Non-physical barriers include perceptions of low quality in OER and lack of recognition of educational accomplishment when using OER.

Improved standards (for example, SCORM - Poltrack et al. 2012) and indexing of OER (for example, MERLOT - are both attempts to make appropriate OER easier to find, use and re-use. The barrier of internet infrastructure and the availability of internet appliances is being erased automatically by the wide proliferation, even in developing countries, of smartphones and the networks to sustain their use. Existing OER of course must still be converted for effective distribution to small screens, but that too is rapidly being taken care of by HTML5/CSS3/Javascript 'skins' to repurpose existing web content.

Perceptual barriers are harder to erase, especially lack of recognition of accomplishment. I deal with some problems of perception under the heading of Motivational Issues, below. The issue of OER quality is considered in the next section, Quality/Maintenance/Sustainability

2. Quality/Maintenance/Sustainability

The quality or usefulness of some OER is reduced by context. They may have been produced, for instance, with an assumption that users will already have acquired prerequisite knowledge. This assumption makes it difficult for re-use by other users who lack those specific prerequisites. Few solutions seem to have been implemented, but there has been a call of a de-contextualization of OER, a move that probably implies atomization and a finer-grained OER landscape. OER course elements, that is, may be preferable to OER courses.

Maintenance of OER requires a continual expenditure of resources. A very brief survey of OER available on Wikiversity ( quickly reveals broken links, missing images and other evidence of inadequate maintenance. Poor maintenance quickly raises the issue of sustainability. It is still not clear that sufficient resources have been mobilized to make possible the production of new OER, the necessary revisions and updates to existing OER and the simple maintenance of links to external web resources.

Some recent initiatives show at least theoretical promise in remedying maintenance and sustainability issues in particular areas. Hylén and Schuller (2007) recommend policy changes and increased spending in both public - local, national and international levels - and private spheres.

Leinonen et al. (2009) propose action research, the mounting of ambitious individual courses using OER as a promising direction in improving perceptions of quality. Such projects not only provide useful information on how OER can be used effectively, by their very success they can help to improve overall perceptions in educational and legislative communities.

Nevertheless, once a perception of the low quality of OER has become established it will take some time and a lot of effort to turn it around. It has taken decades to correct similar situations, for instance the perception of quality in products from Japan subsequent to World War II, and the perception of the quality of software produced by open-source communities. With OER, this challenge can only be met by continual improvement in quality (the Japanese concept of kaizen - Bulsuk 2009) and more successful projects utilizing OER.

Some motivational aspects of quality/maintenance/sustainability problems for OER are considered in the following section.

3. Motivational Issues

Motivation as discussed here is the galaxy of rewards that lead individuals to support OER development and use with either time or money. Motivation is perhaps the most critical factor of all, for it is at the root of the other key issues, capable of removing barriers and improving quality, maintenance and sustainability.

Most of the usual motivators for pedagogical and scholastic accomplishment, including tenure, financial reward, professional and public esteem, appear to be largely absent for work with OER. The field is left then with several relatively weak motivators such as altruism and rapid course development. Various government and foundation grants providing stipends for OER development have sought to address the issue of financial reward, but such salaries are seldom sustainable over the long term.

Another class of motivators is concerned with the reasons why potential students do or do not make use of OER to advance their own education. The low cost of access appears frequently to be negated by the low level of recognition of educational accomplishment. Efforts to address this problem include gamification, the awarding of 'badges' of merit in recognition of successful learning using OER. Gamification also seeks to harness the competitive spirit of potential students and the force of peer esteem.

In addition, many university generated open online courses (big OER - Weller 2012) are now offering certificates of completion or accomplishment, and there are efforts to see these recognized as indicators of accomplishment similar to grades earned for on-campus courses. Even if this effort is successful, however, it offers little hope for potential users of small OER (in the sense of Weller 2012).

As I will discuss below, it is possible that the OSS movement has some important lessons on motivation that may benefit the OER movement.


In contrast to the development and use of OER, the development of open-source software (OSS), an area of which I have some personal knowledge, is a resounding success. The quantity and quality of OSS improves every year, and there are OSS alternatives for virtually every type of major proprietary computer program. This ranges all the way from the powerful operating systems that run the majority of the world's websites, to office suites and high-end user applications such as 3-D modeling and realistic character animation.

Although some of this activity receives corporate support, for instance from Google, IBM and Oracle, the vast majority of the work is done by highly skilled volunteers, working as individuals, networked commmunities or cohesive teams. These groups frequently establish foundations to provide stability and long-term direction to their efforts, as well as establishing global standards of interoperability. The world wide web is one product of this type of open source standardization. The motivations behind this kind of successful product creation by volunteers is worth investigating.

How has all of this been accomplished?

Personal champions, individuals whose names become associated with an operating system or a programming language, are one factor. These role models stimulate others to emulate their accomplishments. This type of motivation is easily seen to extend to the generally high regard in which those who become software cognescenti are held by their peers and by legions of others who are less accomplished in the same area.

Another motivational factor, far too powerful to be discounted, is the widespread identification of a common enemy. Referring to large, for profit companies with terms such as "the evil empire" and "the dark side" builds a camaraderie among OSS developers that binds them to their work and to accomplishing ever greater ways to free themselves from the tyrrany of proprietary software. This type of loyalty bears a strong resemblance to nationalism and might be termed a non-violent form of sectarian warfare. The power of the feud is well known to drive the behaviour of individuals across the span of generations.

Could the OER movement and open education in general benefit by a stronger countercultural emphasis?


While there are very likely lessons to be learned by the OER movement from the OSS movement, we must be careful not to jump to the conclusion that there is a one-to-one correspondence. The software development environment is a relatively simple system in terms of human motivation, because software users derive a very direct and tangible reward in terms of a feeling of power when the software enables them to accomplish personal goals with the computer. Even without peer esteem and the satisfaction of evading the clutches of an 'evil empire,' there are concrete reasons for wanting good OSS.

The educational environment, by contrast, is an example of a very complex system. There are few instant gratifications like those provided by software use. Instead, motivations for accomplishment are many and continually shifting with place and time. Like other such systems - the environment, the weather, armed conflict - we still have few tools that are useful in prediction and control. Achieving concrete goals in the educational system may still be an intractable problem in practical terms.

Bulsuk, Karn G. (2009). Warping Forward with Kaizen: An introduction to kaizen, the concept of continuous improvement, and first in a series of how to practically implement it within your service-industry organization.  (Accessed: 21-Mar-2013).
Hylén, J. & Schuller, T., (2007). Giving knowledge for free. OECD Observer, 263.,3343,en_2649_35845581_38659497_1_1_1_1,00.html (Accessed: 15-Mar-2013).
Hatakka, M. (2009), ‘Build it and they will come? – Inhibiting factors for reuse of open content in developing countries’, in EJISDC - The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, Vol. 37, n. 5, pp. 1-16 (Accessed: 16-Mar-2013).
Johnstone, Sally M. (2005). "Open Educational Resources Serve the World". Educause Quarterly 28 (3). (Accessed: 18-Mar-2013).
Leinonen, T., Vadén, T. and Suoranta, J. (2009) 'Learning in and with an open wiki project: Wikiversity’s potential in global capacity building' First Monday, Volume 14, Number 2 - 2 February 2009 (Accessed: 16-Mar-2013).
Poltrack, J., N. Hruska, J. Haag and A. Johnson. (2012) The Next Generation of SCORM: Innovation for the Global Force. Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2012, 9 pp. (Accessed: 18-Mar-2013).
Weller, M. (2012) ‘The openness–creativity cycle in education’, Special issue on Open Educational Resources, JIME, Spring 2012 [online]. Available at (Accessed: 13-Mar-2013).

[This essay is submitted as Activity #7 for the open course #h817open. NOTE added 24Mar2013: This activity has been awarded the Badge: OER understanding - Demonstrated understanding of OER issues on H817open; see badge logo appearing at the top of this post]