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User:Leighblackall/Interview about open education

A research project run by the University of New England, looking at Open Educational Resource use and issues.

My title is the Learning Commons Coordinator and I work in the Faculty of Health within the discipline of Sports Studies. My role is really to work within that discipline and improve their understanding of open educational practices, including education and research and to encourage them to adopt some of those practices with support and role modelling.

That’s right, my supervisor, Keith Lyons, employed me for that purpose.

Well, currently, the status of OER at the moment - and I’ve been following it since about 2003 - is that while in 2001/2003 it was focussed around the ideas of learning object repositories, today it is more interested in not only content, (which the repositories were), but disaggregated content (that’s content distributed across the internet wherever it is), and practices. The consistency across both of those approaches has been copyright. So the copyright has to be what some call copy left, in that it explicitly permits copying re-use, re-appropriation and use for commercial purposes et cetera.

So today, I like to think today the focus is on a distributed internet-as-the-platform type of idea. So that includes YouTube, Wikipedia, Wikiversity and books,, wherever there is content that has the right sort of copyright, it is distributed across the Internet, and use and reuse is not interested in specific platforms or repositories.

Probably more importantly, it’s about practice. How education and research practices evolve to encourage that sort of use and reuse, but also to encourage open participation in other sorts of social justice issues relating to open access to information, knowledge, learning and education.

Facilitator: ..opinion about the values of open educations resources?

I think there’s too much focus on content, too much focus on copyright and not enough focus on practice and praxis - being theoretically informed practice. My worry is that the learning object approach is still strong, if not re-emerging as a kind of dominant force over the idea of open educational resources. I even detected elements of that thinking in your survey questions where I think it was in the section where you’re asking what people knew about open educational resources, you listed several projects that had something to do with open educational resources, and the vast majority of those projects are learning object repository type projects.

The only one I noticed that starts to get into the more contemporary practice was Wikieducator and I didn’t see any mention of Wikimedia foundation projects like Wikipedia, Wikiversity, Wikibooks or YouTube's Creative Commons or Flickr Creative Commons. These are all content repositories, yes, but that embody a kind of open practice as well.

So that’s worrying me, and also it worries me now that getting some institutional take-up, that the directors of those institutions, the bosses, don’t have the background knowledge, nor do they seem to have the inclination for asking those who do have a lot of user knowledge, for their input. They’re making decisions mostly around the marketing opportunities of it and not thinking deeply about the practice and change needed.

Facilitator: So ... the University of Canberra is ... reviewing policies... So to what extent does your institution use OERs and develop or repurpose open educational resources?

One clarification needed there is that the University of Canberra isn’t doing much towards open educational resources. There are individual staff members who work with the University of Canberra doing a lot, in terms of lobbying the university to change its policies, and in demonstrating their practices along the lines of open educational resources. As yet, none of the policy proposals being made by those staff are making it through the senior management, and very little, if any dialogue or discourse is happening with the senior management.

So that clarification out of the way, is the University of Canberra using open educational resources? Again, the University of Canberra is not using open educational resources; individual practitioners working with the University of Canberra are using and producing open educational resources, as well as conducting open research practices.

We tend to focus on the institutions and what they are doing and miss and ignore the individual activities of individual practitioners. That just feeds the problem of director decisions and director authored policies that don’t really understand or have any experience with practice, and are not engaging with their staff, who are heavily engaged, with many holding critical insight and reflection. So I think it’s important that a project such as yours does as much as it can to identify individual practitioners and what they are doing, rather than focussing on what institutions are doing.

Facilitator: So what are they doing, Leigh? So do you use open educational resources?

What I do is if I’m producing, I don’t know, a video, an instructional video, I’ll usually create the image myself add the narration myself and then I’ll download a free audio track, like a music track from a site like or and I’ll put the backing track to that and then release the resulting video onto YouTube, Internet archive and Wikimedia Commons, with the appropriate copyright licence. A colleague of mine in psychology, James Neil, who I hope you get to speak to, instead of assigning essays to his first year psychology students, he’s assigning chapters so they will write an open text book together. Together they've written a book on motivation and emotion, It's on Wikiversity. Because that is the platform, Wikiversity being related to Wikipedia, copyleft media is the only permissible use of media there. So the students and teachers involved in that project can only use Creative Commons images, audio and video and text. This compels them to use open educational resources heavily.

All of my research is conducted openly, so from the first sentence to the last sentence of a paper, it is also written on Wikiversity, as are the notes and documentation of all of the research processes, including interviews and data collection and theoretical review et cetera, are also kept on that wiki page.

Our funding applications that we make in sports studies, not all of us, just a few of us, we also use Wikiversity, so that the first sentence to the last sentence of the funding application is also openly available, with an invitation to any competing tenderers to join us if they see strength in that joining.

Yeah so on and so forth, so…

I don’t think there’s an example of a ready-made, open educational resource being downloaded and re-used. I don’t think that’s realistic. But there are plenty of examples of individual images, sound tracks, maybe even an entire lecture from another university, being re-used, or package.

John Vandenberg. He’s an employee at University of New England, president of Wikimedia Australia and one of the most experienced Wikipedia editors and of the other projects that I know in Australia. So he may have other perspectives for you and relating to University of New England, it’s quite concerning to see - both interesting and concerning to see the arrangement with Pearsons Publishers going on up there.

The business model is what’s interesting and in it is a possible model for open education resource development if and when the agreement goes ahead with Pearson’s Publishers and that will be about University of New England, I imagine, engaging in the open education side of things. Perhaps they can do research, release research openly and accessibly.

Facilitator: So you were saying that you work with academics.

That’s right, my brief is primarily to work with academic staff but I found very early on that they were reluctant to adopt the proposed practices until they say leadership, or senior leaders stating so in policy. I mean there’s - it’s complicated, there are many, many things in the university sector that work against the adoption of open education practices. So I’ve tended to focus more of my energies on policy proposal and engaging in policy level. Get that in place and then go back to the academic staff.

I’m not convinced that is actually the way the go because engaging at that level we could tend to miss or get compromised or actually lose and then you have nothing to go back to the academic staff with. Where I much prefer growing it from the grass roots up, but they’re very busy people unfortunately.

Facilitator: So in your opinion and your experience with them, so what do you think it would motivate them to embrace open educational resources? Do you think it’s - it could help if institutions could provide additional support or financial incentives even, professional recognition? What do you think it could encourage them to use more?

Yeah I think the last two you mentioned, professional recognition and financial reward or other types of reward. We all have our performance appraisal processes; research gets rewarded based on the journal that it’s published to, and who the research is conducted with, and how many citations a publication gets. Open education practice, whether it be research or education, have the mechanisms to report on those sorts of measures. So we just need to adjust our rewards systems to recognise that, probably the easiest space to work up is in the community engagement part of an academic's 3 main roles of teaching, engagement, and research.

I don’t know many universities that give community engagement any serious consideration, and I think the engagement area would be the place to create a space for recognition and reward for teachers engaging in open practices.

I don’t know how to approach this in terms of research, but I wonder, a staff member who needs extrinsic motivation, is that really the type of person we want engaging in open educational practice? Already we have a small percentage who already are and they’re doing it for intrinsic motivation reasons, and are probably a more valuable asset to the movement than those who aren’t. You can see this in some studies done on Wikipedia, the sense of politics in Wikipedia is changing to a negative space by and large, and at the same time they are engaging more with academics. I wonder if the nature and the tone of Wikipedia is changing because, in fact, they are engaging with academics.

So basically I think, if you’re focussing on an institution level, that might be a problem. But if you don’t consider institutions as important in this movement, in fact the boundaries between institutions dissolve and you then have just individual practitioners working towards this. Then you only need a small percentage of practitioners in each institution to make an international movement very strong and possibly out-compete the institutions. It’s a controversial point of view but it’s an interesting one.

Facilitator: So how comfortable do you think academics are in sharing and do you think there is a concern there in terms of loss of intellectual property, lack of awareness, or commercial exploitation?

Yeah it’s like a clash of paradigms; they’ve worked very hard to develop recognition in that paradigm, the copyright paradigm, and then there are others who have worked very hard to develop recognition in the copyleft paradigm. For those who are already invested in copyleft there are business models emerging out of it, people are selling texts and services, promoted by the open access and reuse. There are other models that need incubation.

Other concerns is that openness obviously exposes poor practice and you won’t find many people admitting to that concern but I daresay it is a major concern. Another point is that there are some areas of academia that are entirely saturated with practitioners and so competition is very stiff and going open exposes that say, 500 people are doing the same thing. Others might see this and say.. we probably don’t need 500 people employed here in this field, so I guess that exposes that as well.

Probably another big part is that there are some technical skills needed to be learned on how to manage reputation and develop practices on the internet which aren’t reflected in journal publications, or submitting to journals and teaching in classrooms or online spaces with restricted access. It's interesting that there was some research in the US surveying academic use of social media. I think you’ll find it in the blog DIYU and I can’t pronounce the last name, she authored the book DIYU, Do It Yourself University, and the post was called Academic Luddites. The post pointed to a survey of 4000 US academics and their use of social media, and found that more than 86 per cent I think it was, don’t use any form of social media in their practice whatsoever. That includes Skype for guest lecturing, or it includes Facebook or YouTube or blogs or Wikis or any of that type of collaborative space. Yet 70 per cent of them use learning management systems - closed spaces that are restricted to only the classroom, and much more limited in their technical and social affordances. I thought it was quite a revealing survey and I don’t think it’s a stretch to see that the same results might be found here in Australia.

Facilitator: At University of Canberra, what are the possibilities that academics have to use a Creative Commons licence to put their educational materials under?

Well it’s been difficult; originally the intellectual property policy officer was the vice chancellor, Stephen Parker. My meetings with him indicated that he was quite supportive of the proposal. But he delegated it to the deputy vice chancellor of engagement then, John Howard, who also personally supported the proposal but wasn’t comfortable, I think, going ahead with such a different approach; putting the university out there as quite different to all other universities in Australia. Nonetheless he did invite James and I to speak at Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia, and you’ll see the video of the presentation in the Wiki that is the proposed intellectual property policy.

Unfortunately John didn’t come to any conclusions and it was then delegated to the deputy vice chancellor of research who has decided not to engage James and I in the process at this point. So at this point in time it looks fairly grim, but if it does continue this way, I know I'll feel very put out, and even see it as a breach of protocol, not to mention just plain etiquette, but much more importantly protocol. Any policy review needs to engage, so announce itself to staff and have an engagement process. If we’re the only staff members who are active in this area and our proposal is ignored I think that’s ground for some form of complaint. So we’ll just have to see how that plays out.

If they were to go with a standard copyright and intellectual property policy, I’m certain that most will just quietly resist that space as they do in most other universities. They upload their videos to YouTube; they contribute their content to Wikipedia, always breaching that sort of standard copyright policy, so that will just continue. So I don’t think it will have a serious impact except the questions of how do we grow this, and like I said before, I’m not so sure that growing it is actually a good idea.

So if the truth of the matter is that people who want to publish and practice openly, do anyway, then we really could switch things around hey? Practically that would mean we’d have to acknowledge who we’re employed by and whose time we’re using to produce these things. So the attribution, the creative commons attribution needs to go back to you the author, who works with or for the University of Canberra or the University of New England. They just need to be included in the attribution and I think that’s entirely fair.

But anyway, if that proposal gets through, one is that empowers our Ngunnawal Centre, the indigenous nation representatives here. We can make something of that, the first Australian institution to recognise indigenous autonomy on these matters. The other thing is that people can opt out of the Creative Commons copyright arrangement. So if there is an academic or any other person, student academic, partner, who’s not comfortable with that license, they tick the box in their uploading and saving process, that opts out and applies copyright restrictions. This triggers a unit, or a representative from that unit, to go and see them and say, "look, are you aware of what you’re doing or do you need support in protecting and commercialising? What is it that’s the problem here and we’ll support whatever your decision is." Beyond that, then it’s that support unit that hopefully plays a strong educative role in getting more people understanding copyright or copyleft and more and more people adopting open publishing, or successfully using traditional copyright protections.

Then we take it to the levels of journals where there are journals who have restrictive copyright policies. We encourage more and more of our staff to try and negotiate with those journals and get more of their work published with open and resuable copyright licences, with copies retained in our library, et cetera.

Facilitator: Well it’s a start. So according to your experience now Leigh, around open educational resources, what do you see as the main benefits that are likely to come with open educational resources?

Well it’s an interesting question. I think we have an unquestioning - we in the movement that is - have an unquestioning point of view that better access means better educated population, means better democracy, means social equity and all those sorts of things. It may well not be the case, although targeting open practices and consolidating them in projects such as Wikipedia and the internet generally, I think can be shown to result in some improvement in access and awareness.

For example, Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world and I think it may even be the fourth in Australia. With the ones above that being the Google search engine, YouTube and Facebook. Below that are just blog platforms, photo sharing platforms and it isn’t until hundreds down the list that anything like an information website, like Wikipedia appears. So that tells us something quite positive about the population, that in-between socialising and entertaining themselves they are actually seeking out encyclopaedic information on things, a lot of the time. Having easy access to that is wonderful in terms of increasing awareness and understanding of things.

On the other flipside though is - something I worry about - is kind of a neo-colonialism, or a new type of cultural imperialism that comes with this. Because Wikipedia is the great flattener of knowledge, where diversity is lost, diversity and opinion is lost and we go with the agreed definition, of the dominant group of editors. So now we have the fourth most visited information website giving out flattened information without any point of view included and it’s difficult then from there to find what’s an Islamic point of view on this, what’s a Hindi point of view on this, or what’s a gender - what’s a feminist point of view on this et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Then on top of that, is the nation’s with the greater internet access and internet culture, in particular North America, who have a dominant say on that flattened knowledge and flattened information.

So on one hand the benefits are greater access, therefore greater awareness and potentially greater engagement. But on the flip side is a flattening of information, or even a polarisation of points of view, because the diversity isn’t catered to.

Facilitator: What else do you think it’s a challenge for?

Well the obvious ones are the business models, how does an institution discover new business models if they’re reluctant or struggling to deal with existing business models? I think there are some suggestions there and if we change our perspective from user pay learning and education, free access to learning, and education (that being assessment, support and certification) is fee based if it must be. There is where I think the opportunity is in open education in Australia, or anywhere else in the world. Those who had their recognition or prior learning processes set up right, or who where more sophisticated in their assessment practices. They would set up all their courses as open access courses, then they could really ramp up, I think, participation rates and possibly enrolment through to formal accreditation on that approach. But that’s a fairly significant challenge to the sector in Australia who are governed by a federal government that rewards us on how many people enrol upfront on a course.

The other one I suppose is greater participation, there’s an attitude I hear said a lot, is the reason academics don’t engage with, for example, Wikipedia, is because they have to deal with a fourteen year old bureaucrat. That flies in the face of ideas of community engagement, so if they were true to community engagement, then turning up to the local hall and a 14 year old kid arrives and wants to hold them to account, are they going to dismiss that kid on the basis of their age and their tendency to be a neurotic about policy? Well they shouldn’t because that’s somebody from the community engaging in their knowledge field, but when it comes to Wikipedia they do discriminate and decide not to engage in it because they have a perception that 14 year old bureaucrats dominate the space. So a bigger challenge I think is academic culture and elitism and things like that.