Category Archives: OER

Computing Science for Schools

My own modest OER contribution (see previous post) pales into insignificance next to a fantasic set of materials from Jeremy Scott, developed with the support of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the BCS, and a very useful resource (which would make an excellent partner) from Computing At Schools – both aimed at teaching (and supporting teachers) computing for middle/high-school students.

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Learning about Learning Design and MOOCs

Two upcoming MOOCs (Massively Online Open Courses, in case there are folk still not sure what the acronym is for!) that I have signed up for – though whether I’ll be able to complete them I honestly don’t know yet. It is no secret that my blogging, virtual worlds, and research activity have all slowed down over the last year or so – as I’ve had to put increasing amounts of time into my day job of lecturing. But with some luck I’ll be able to get stuck into these two…

Starting soon, will be the Open University’s Open Learning Design Studio MOOC. The course aims are fourfold:

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Complete free online course text books

I have OLDaily to thank for discovering this excellent resource… are building a library of high-quality free online texts for a wide range of university courses. These all follow US based curricula outlines, but of course most will be equally useful anywhere in the world. The courses are arranged and grouped according to degree subject areas. So, for example, substantial progress has been made towards a complete set of texts for Computer Science degree level education.

There is also a current text-book writing competition, the Open Textbook Challenge, with prizes of $20,000 for accepted texts – and a number of job vacancies. I’d be very tempted to apply other than the requirement to attend monthly meetings in Washington D.C. (a big commute from Scotland!)

ALT-C Review Part 1: Open Country

Open and OER were very big topics this year – coming up across multiple sessions. From what I saw primarily stories around how course teams produced OER and/or shared OER – not so much on how OER was brought into individidual courses or brought into institutional practice.
The Open Country session with Amber Thomas, David White, Helen Beetham and David Kernohan brought together many of the themes and ideas being discussed around OER – while stretching the ‘Open Country’ theme almost to breaking point – the first ALT-C cosplay? Perhaps not the last…

ALTC 2011 Hoedown

Discussion generally focussed on OER as content – though Diana Laurillard’s question effectively reminded us that OER also includes instructional designs, teaching plans, and so on – she placed more emphasis on how content is used to provide ‘education’. I guess her motivation in asking this question is essentially that which has driven work in systems like LAMS which aim to make it easier to plan, manage and share sets of learning activities for specific lessons.
But I think to dismiss content-focussed as effectively libraries rather than schools denies how useful libraries can be in helping develop educational programs. The libraries of images on Wikimedia Commons, videos on YouTube, detail on Wikipedia, etc. have helped me develop numerous sets of lectures and notes over the past while.

On passing the JORUM stand, I added another star to the feature request chart to the many already placed on ‘discoverability’. It seemed to be the clear winner by Tuesday lunch time – obviously I’m not the only tutor who has found searching for useful resources on JORUM to be a frustrating (I would say hostile) experience. And when I search JORUM I only get access to the relatively small amount of content on that particular repository – why isn’t this stuff indexed on the OERCommons? Because we want to force people to waste time wandering from repository to repository?

Building on this, my own (unasked – perhaps for next year) question is whether we could/should be thinking more about how learners, rather than educators, might find useful resources. We aren’t always doing a good job helping the latter group, perhaps if we focus on how the learners themselves would find the resources we might do a better job. If I post my content on a blog or other dedicated site, is that better or worse for promoting reuse? Basically, can we just throw stuff online and trust in Google to let people find it?

This might not sound effective, my own experience shows otherwise. During the last academic session I posted some of my own notes on 3D graphics programming to a dedicated blog I created for the purpose on These are fairly fragmentary as much of the course is based on textbooks and materials that are in copyright. One set of notes to help students install the software libraries required was also posted to scribd, with a link included to download some related files. Less than a year later, there have been almost 7000 views of the Scribd document and well over 1000 downloads of the files. I don’t think my 50 students could have been responsible for too many of these downloads.

Are students finding these notes using Google? Are instructors pointing the students to the notes? Does it matter? If I had posted the material on JORUM Would I have achieved the same impact (I doubt it!)? If I had posted this material on JORUM as well as the blog would that have increased the impact?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I have my suspicions. None of this is to argue that we shouldn’t have repositories like JORUM are useless, but I it poses fundamental questions over how they should work.

To post stuff online we need somewhere to post it. Online cloud services are not always suitable – file size limits, registration requirements, subscription fees, etc. can pose problems that OER repositories can and do solve. But experience shows that the meta-data capture on systems like JORUM is either not up to job of supporting discoverability or that people are simply incapable of entering useful meta-data. Maybe we should forget that, and just expose the contents to the search engines, because I have little faith that we can do better than Google.