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Open Content, the Capetown Declaration, the Bazaar Conference and Personal LearninG Environments

December 13th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

No posts for a while as have been constantly traveling. Since I am now on my way to Utrecht for the final conference of the Bazaar project on Open educational Resources then it seems pertinent to comment once more on the debate over the Capetown Declaration on Open Content. Despite the declaration being drafted in a restricted community – and official comment being similarly restricted – it is heartening to see that an open discussion has emerged through the blogosphere and within the open content com,unity. That the community is able to organise such a debate is very encouraging and a sign of the increasingly mature nature of the community.

Stephen Downes – in an email to the UNesco list server on OERs, says:

“I understand the purpose of the use of the word ‘libre’, as the words ‘open’ and ‘free’ have certainly been appropriated by those who see learning content as something ‘given’ and not ‘created’ or ‘used’. And one wonders what the supporters of commercial reproduction of open educational content would say were such reproduction required to retain the format and structure of the original – no proprietary technology, no encoding or access restrictions, no DRM. What would they say were they required to make available genuinely free and ‘libre’ content in whatever marketplace they offered their commercial version of such content.

I understand the concerns about the use of the word ‘libre’ as being unfamiliar and foreign to some people. Perhaps we could offer a translation. Perhaps we could call such content ‘liberty’ content. Alternatively, I would also support a move to reclaim the word ‘open’ from those who now interpret it to mean ‘produced’ and ‘commercial’ and ‘closed’. I have always referred to the concept simply as ‘free learning’.”

Stephen’s contribution reflects the findings of the Bazaar project. Firstly, it is not just a matter of ensuring a Creative Commons license is attached to resources – although awareness of such licenses is of course important. OERS have to be available in a form which renders them usable for learning. Part of that learning may involve changing those resources. Formats do matter.

Even more critical is support for the processes of learning. There are many great resources openly available on the internet and an increasing number of free social software applications which can potentially support learning.

But there remain many barriers to their effective use for learning. One of the issues we have focused on in the Bazaar project is data ownership. Yes, Facebook is a great application for peer and shared learning. But Facebook denies users access to their own data.

Equally organisation and institutional cultures of teaching and learning inhibit sharing and reuse.

In the Bazaar project we have spent some considerable efforts in looking at the potential of Personal Learning Environments. I suspect our reviewers from the Commission find this strange. Why should a project on Open Educational Resource be concerned about PLEs. The reason is because we share Stephen’s vision of I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of “society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle……..This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.”

We see Personal Learning Environments as an important development in enabling such a vision – allowing learners to create and allowing sharing of knowledge and ideas as well as artefacts.

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    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information

    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.

    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time

    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”

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