Open Access and climate change?

My excellent colleague Colin Smith is Research Repository Manager for Open Research Online (ORO), the OU’s institutional open access repository for research articles. He sees parallels between climate change skepticism and open access skepticism, and argues:

Even if the advantage of doing something contains an element of doubt, if there is no disadvantage to not doing it, why not do it anyway? If there is even the slightest chance that you could become better cited or achieve broader impact for your research through OA, why not just do it? As I always like to remind people, it takes little over one minute to deposit a journal article in ORO using the DOI (for proof see ourscreencast of this being done, and at a rather conservative pace, it has to be said!), and certainly no more than two or three minutes if you have to enter the details manually

The obvious (well, to me it’s obvious) counter-argument is that there are disadvantages to taking the alternative course. There are always disadvantages to any course of action. This is true in climate change, and true in academic publishing. In both cases I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but it crucially depends on what action is being proposed.

In the academic publishing area, there are more disadvantages than simply the opportunity cost of the time taken to put a pre-publication draft in an institutional repository like ORO. (Which I agree is a small amount of time, so long as you already know what ORO is and what you should be submitting, and have the full details at hand.)

There’s the argument that open access (OA) publishing will undermine commercial publishers, and we’ll end up without the editorial, marketing and other support currently provided by that funding stream. Relatedly, there’s an argument that the support for the production and distribution of printed copies will dry up, which will have a negative impact on access to articles.  There’s also the argument that shifting the payment burden from readers to writers puts up barriers to publishing which are more significant than the barriers to reading with non-OA systems.

And at the choice-of-journal stage, there’s the big factor – which muddies any impact study – that journals are not all equal. I’m keen on open access, and am an editor of an open-access journal (the Journal of Interactive Media in Education, JIME), but I would be the first to admit that you’ll get a lot more citations and impact if you get your paper in Nature than in JIME, excellent as it is.

As I said, I think the benefits of a large-scale shift to OA publishing outweigh the costs, and heavily. But I don’t think it helps the argument to make out that the costs don’t exist at all. (I think this is also true in the climate change case, but that’s very off-topic for this blog – and like Colin, I’d really rather not have a climate change argument out here.)

On submitting to ORO in particular, though, the marginal costs are very low, and the potential benefits high. As an academic, you’ve already made the decision about where to publish and been accepted. There’s a particularly clever feature to the system: when you submit your paper to the site, you don’t need to worry about what the journal’s position on open access publishing is. You can and should just submit it anyway, and the excellent, expert ORO staff (aided by expert Librarians) will check for you and only make material available where permitted. That way the institution can use its full, collective leverage on publishers to get a sensible deal. Also, ORO is used extensively for research tracking purposes in the OU, so if you don’t put your stuff there, you risk appearing to have a smaller research profile than you in fact do.

Colin has a closing thought:

if we think of academic journals in the OA debate as oil in the climate change debate, we are only going to have less and less access to them as time goes on. Academic libraries cannot afford to subscribe to them all, and that is only going to get worse. In the same way that in 50, 100, 150 years time (whatever it may be) we will have no oil-based fuel to put in our cars, in 10, 15, 20 years time you may be even less likely than you are now to reach your desired audience by simply relying on the subscription base of a given journal. Rather than waiting to see if this happens, why not do something about it now?

I’m not sure I can confidently predict the details of how the current situation will change, but I do think there’s an inevitability about a move away from restrictions on the distribution of content – whether that content is news, songs, videos or scholarly writing. Thinking and doing something about that now is a smart move.

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Product placement in HE

Product placement is in the news at the moment, with the leaked announcement that the ban on that form of advertising in UK television is to be lifted and Liam mentioning it as part of the changes underway in the television world in his talk this morning. Obviously, commercial broadcasters like ITV – faced with plunged advertising revenues – are very keen to open up a potential new source of funding, and advertisers are apparently keen to hawk their products and services in this way. And it’s the most obvious solution to the increasing ‘skip the adverts’ problem, which the shift to Internet-enabled TV is making far worse. If the adverts are deeply integrated in to the programme, you can’t skip them,  you can’t edit them out, and you might not even notice they’re there.

Which leads on to the the two huge issues with this sort of advertising: transparency and editorial independence. Will people know or realise that the judges on X Factor are taking regular sips of Coke because the Coca Cola Company paid handsomely for them to do so?  How can broadcasters possibly keep editorial decisions and advertising decisions apart when the advert and the programme content happen at the same time?

Those aren’t often seen as big issues for Higher Education. But actually, I think they are.

We make extensive use of branded products and services in our offerings to students and staff – particularly educational technologies.  Books, journals, VLEs, computers, all sorts of things.

Routinely we get an educational discount for this stuff – which is really product placement.  The main differences I can see is that we generally get paid far less than the products themselves are worth for advertising them to our captive audience of students, and we don’t usually recognise the transaction for what it is.

(We also cheerfully take people’s money and in return name buildings, or Centres, or endowed Chairs after them – but there the transaction is recognised as sponsorship by everyone involved, and the deals are made accordingly.)

The twin challenges of transparency and editorial independence (or pedagogical independence if you prefer) apply just as much to these transactions as they do in the world of TV.

I’m definitely not saying we should avoid all such deals, or only ever use open source technologies in our teaching.  (Though that’s not a bad starting assumption.)

But I do think we need to be aware of the influence that the ‘educational discount’ has on what we do as educators, and be very careful we’re not unwittingly turning ourselves into corporate shills – and doing it on the cheap.  Even when we’re using ‘free’ (as-in-beer) products, we need to remember that free-at-the-point-of-use from a commercial outfit emphatically does not mean they’re not getting something valuable from us.

The murky issue of licensing

Over on the excellent new-look Cloudworks, there’s a debate going on about what to do about licensing of content on the site.  There’s two questions: one is what license to choose, and the other is what to do about the stuff that’s already on the site (!).  The latter I’m going to discuss over on that article, since it really only applies to Cloudworks, but what license is the Right One is a big and more general question.

This is far from a settled issue in the educational community. There’s reasonable consensus that Creative Commons licences are Good, rather than more restrictive ones, but as you probably already know, there are multiple versions of Creative Commons licenses.   The details are set out nicely on the Creative Commons Licenses page.  As someone releasing material, there are basically four conditions you can choose to apply:

  • Attribution (BY – must give credit)
  • Share Alike (SA – can make derivative works but only if licensed under a similar licence)
  • Non-Commercial (NC – only if not for commercial purposes)
  • No Derivatives (ND – can only distribute verbatim copies, no derivative works)

You can combine (some of) these to create six distinct licences:

  • Attribution (CC:BY)
  • Attribution Share Alike (CC:BY-SA),
  • Attribution No Derivatives  (CC:BY-ND),
  • Attribution Non-Commercial (CC:BY-NC),
  • Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC:BY-NC-SA)
  • Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives (CC:BY-NC-ND)

There’s also a newish licence called CC0, which is intended as a way of unambiguously releasing a work into the public domain, free of any restraint.

So – assuming your aim is to promote the widest possible access to the material – what license should you choose?

There is a big, ongoing and fundamental argument going on in the Open Educational Resources (OER) and wider online educational community about this, with Stephen Downes and David Wiley perhaps the most articulate/notable exponents of two different positions.  To caricature horribly (and my apologies to both), Stephen Downes’ position is that the most effective licence is CC:BY-NC-SA, and David Wiley’s is that simple CC:BY is better (or even CC0).  This is overlaid (or perhaps underpinned) by a difference of approach, between a strong principled approach, and a pragmatic one.  (If you’re at all interested, I really do recommend digging in to their ongoing conversation about this.  A good starting place might be this post by Stephen Downes, and this one by David Wiley, mostly on NC – or these lists of the responses of one to the other.  If you’re going to Open Ed in Vancouver, they’re planning to debate each other face-to-face, which should be very illuminating.  A recent contribution to the ongoing debate is that Wikipedia has recently moved to CC:BY-SA.)

The argument for minimal licensing (CC:BY or less) is in essence that the other conditions create un-necessary barriers to reuse and distribution.  So, for instance, insisting on Non-Commercial would stop a company distributing printed copies of the work for profit, which might make it more available than it would otherwise be.  The arguments for more restrictive licensing include a fear that commercial interests will crowd out the free sources, using their greater marketing leverage, and that requiring Share-Alike keeps the ‘open-ness’ attached to the work.

There are obvious parallels with the Free/Open Source Software debate: there, the ideologically-pure line (what you might call the Richard Stallman view) has not been anything like as widely-adopted as the more flexible one (what you might call the Linux view).  Being widely-used, of course, does not mean that the approach is right.

For educational resources, my own current personal view is that CC:BY is the licence of choice, where possible.

It’s the least restrictive license and is the lowest barrier to sharing. All the other CC licenses create speedbumps (or worse) to people who want to use or remix  material.

We know that re-use is not widespread default practice in the educational community, and adding in extra barriers seems entirely the wrong tack to me.  If you’re wanting to use something, the extra conditions create headaches that make it  – for most practical purposes – at least look like it’s easier and quicker to just re-create your own stuff.  It’s hard enough persuading colleagues that it’s a good idea to re-use material where possible rather than re-creating it, never mind if they also need a long course in Intellectual Property Rights to understand what they can and can’t do with it.  Each of the qualifications to a simple CC:BY adds extra questions that the potential reuser needs to think through.

We can dismiss ‘No-derivatives’ fairly easily: it’s an explicit barrier to remixing or editing.   As a potential user, you have to think about things like how much you’re allowed to quote/reuse as fair use/comment.  And if you are prepared to simply copy it verbatim, what constitutes verbatim?  What if you change the font?  Or print it out from an online version?  Put a page number, heading or links to other parts of your course at the top or bottom?  Can you fix a glaring and misleading typo?

‘Non-commercial’ is also full of tricky questions.  Most universities are not commercial for these purposes … except not all university activities are covered.  What about using it on a website with ads on it?  Like, say, your personal academic blog that’s hosted for free in exchange for unobtrusive text adverts?   What about a little ‘hosted for free by Company X’ at the bottom?  A credit-bearing course where all the students are funded by the State is clearly not commercial in this sense … but what about one where (in the UK context) they’re all full fee-paying foreign students?  Or a CPD-type course where there’s no degree-level credit and the learners all pay fees?

‘Share-alike’ means you have to worry about whether the system you’re wanting to use the material on allows you to use a CC licence or not.  Does, say, your institutional VLE have a blanket licence that isn’t CC-SA compatible?  And what if you want to, say, produce a print version with a publisher who (as most do) demands a fairly draconian licence?

For any given set of circumstances, there are ‘correct’ answers to most of these questions.  (And they’re certainly not all ‘No you can’t use it’ in many situations that obtain in universities.)  But you need to be pretty savvy about IP law to know what they are.  And even then, a lot of it hasn’t been tested in the UK courts yet, so you can’t be certain. Worse, what you want to do with the stuff when you’re reusing it may change in future – you might start off making a free online course, but then it might take off and you want to produce a book … but you can’t because some of the stuff you used had NC attached.  Or you might want to transfer your free non-assessed online course to a more formal for-credit version in your University on the institutional VLE … but you can’t because some of the material had SA attached.

You can be a lot more confident about future flexibility if you stick to CC:BY material, and there’s a lot less to worry about whether you’re doing it right.  So my view is that if you want to release material to be re-used as widely as possible, CC:BY makes your potential audience’s life much easier.

Complete public domain release would – on this argument – be even better, except that as an academic, I see attribution as crucial and fundamental, so I can’t let go of that!

I’m not overwhelmingly ideologically committed to this position: it’s very much a pragmatic view of what is most likely to get the best outcome.  I certainly don’t dismiss the counter-arguments about the dangers of commercial, closed pressures: they are real.  But I think on the balance of probabilities that the ease-of-reuse argument outweighs those, and CC:BY is usually the licence of choice.

Learning and Teaching at the OU

Presentation by Denise Kirkpatrick and Niall Sclater.  Or is it a presentation? It’s organised as a Human Resources Development Course – it’s an Open Insights Expert Lecture – with sign up, sign in and all the details going on the internal staff Learning Management System.  And there are feedback sheets to complete too.  “The subjects covered were:  relevant to my present work, background interest only, possibly useful for future work, of no interest”.  If it’s not relevant to my present work then either I or the OU have a bit of a problem.

Being told it’s aimed at new staff … which is news to me; perhaps I misread the course information?  Networking opportunities over coffee later.

Denise Kirkpatrick – Learning @ the OU

Welcomes new staff. We take the quality of our teaching and our student experience extremely seriously, we do it well but always want to try to do it better. QAA audit coming in March.

(Tony Hirst would be pleased to see the RSS logo prominently on her Powerpoint title slide. And I also note that it’s not using the OU Powerpoint template.)

Hard to draw a line between technologies for learning and teaching and those for the rest of your life; the line is blurred. But focus here is on learning and teaching.

Sets out generational view of technologies: BabyBoomers, GenX, NetGen/Millennials. Digital natives, who grew up using technology, it’s not seen as something different.  New generations approach technologies in a different way.  We as staff don’t come at the technologies in the same way as our (potential) students. A challenge.  Attitudes and ways of working are also important, NetGen are team based, they like to work like that.  Caveat: they’re broad categories, are exceptions.

Statistics – UK data – on tech use – from last year.  65% home internet (+7% on 07), 77% NetGen online daily, 91% NetGen use email (Wow – so 9% of them don’t?)  Childwise 2009 report – kids, much younger, are using techs a lot – 25% 5-8 year olds have net in their room, 13-16 almost all have mobiles.

We have mobiles, but we use them differently.  Some staff can’t work out why the hell you would want to deliver something to a device that’s so tiny.  But our students are so much more comfortable with mobiles. So we must investigate how to do it effectively.

Emerging themes in tech in ed: Blurring (f2f/online, in/formal); increased mobility; gaming; social networking; high-impact presentation/engagement techs; analytics, diagnostics and evidence-based ed; human touch; Learning 2.0?

Mobility – shows Google Trends on news about mobile learning.  iTunesU – new OU channel to deliver OU assets to students. (Interesting metaphor.)

Social networking – mentions social:learn, very exciting. Current and potential students are likely to use social networking in their daily life.

Mentions Twitter, virtual worlds – we have big opportunity to create social communities for our students who wouldn’t neesarily meet up.

Online learning gives us lots of data – we need to use that data, especially good with Quality hat on. (Big on analytics – again I can picture Tony Hirst smiling.)

Learning 2.0, don’t underestimate social aspect. Strongest determinant of students’ success is ability to form and partiipate in small groups (Light). ‘Learning to be’ supported by distributed communities of practice; productive inquiry; increasing connections & connectedness.

Has tech changed things? Leveraging potential of social learning (esp in distance ed); add community to content; acces to experts; access to peer review audience.

Examples; iTunesU, Openlearn, VLE, Learning designs project (Gráinne Conole, Cloudworks) – making teaching community-based, sharing practice.

Our challenge: towards a pedagogy of technology enhanced learning; and a scholarship for a digital age (esp for academics). We have always used technologies, for the last 40 years, but need to move that forward.

Q: How does the technology match against our current student age profile? We have a lot of baby boomers.

A: We deliver to the here and now, but our profile does have GenY and is increasing. Also planning for the future. Many baby boomers are confident tech users. Also many of our students – regardless of age – are demanding it. If we have evidence it’ll improve the learning experience, we should do it.

Q (Martyn Cooper, IET): Is there a qualitative difference between GenY’s use of social networking, rather than a quantitative one?

A: I’m not going to answer that one. We might think our quality is far superior, but … it’s a fertile area for research.

Q: Demographics, social advantaged versus disadvantaged – do technologies favour the socially advantaged? Tension with OU’s principles of open access to all.

A: Really important question, currently researching. Lot of unpacking needs to be done in to e.g. mobile phone ownership. Dilemma and a challenge, we have to keep tackling and pushing it. We put in resources to help our socially disadvanted students have access to the net. How much wider would the gap become if we don’t give people the opportunity to learn about that (tech) world?  It could disempower them to give them a route without tech. We have a wide range, it is possible to still study with us and have an almost predominantly print-based experience. But need to reconsider what access means and what our responsibilities are.

Q (Robin Stenham): How explicit are we making the use of social networking tools for group learning in terms of accreditation? Building transferable skills in to the learning outcomes.

A: An area we need to do more work. If we don’t expect access to tech, can’t base assessment on it. There are examples where people are starting to build that in. But haven’t done huge amounts of work, not widespread at this stage.

Niall Sclater

(presentation uses OU template)

Audience question: who brought a mobile? (nearly all)  Who ignored ‘turn off your mobile’? Two. (Including me.)  So please consider switching ON your mobile now.  (And lots of phone boot-up noises.) Impression given by ‘turn it off’ is the wrong one. Onus is on the presenter to make the presentation more interesting than the other competition for your attention (email on your laptop etc).

Focus of VLE is to make web the focus of student experience.  E.g. of old-school A3 print study calendar – contrast A103 and AA100 VLE view showing you the resources. The spine of the course is on the internet.

Encouraging collaboration: tools to help. Elluminate – audio conferencing, increasingly video too. Shared whiteboard. Quite a traditional class way – teacher writing down equations, something about maths that is best taught that way.  Online learning with maths this way, tutors have taken to it like ducks to

Maths Online (MOL) – eTutorial trial Feb 08 – 449 student, 136 staff. Most positive comments about interaction, tutor, convenience (being at home vs travel to tutorials), help. Least about preparation, software, good audio. Negative comments: mainly sound problems, but 50% nothing negative. Connection problems. (Niall has no broadband at home at the moment thanks to ISP problems.) Must bear in mind.  Positive feedback comments – ‘very close to the experience of a face-to-face tutorial’. Elluminate is not for a stand-up lecture with passive audience, it has tools for feedback (instant votes, etc). Give talk, move to next slide, monitoring IM chat backchannel and referred to it. Very skilled to do that; it’s completely different to what we’re used to. ‘gave me a feeling of belonging to a group’ – we couldn’t do this in the past.  If net gen are more collaborative (some evidence?) – is likely to be more important to our students. Evidence for many years that group learning can help.

Community building: Second Life, virtual worlds. Virtual worlds project about to kick off. (Great slide of people sitting down lecture-style in Second Life – only funny bit is that one audience member has wings, another is in fact a chicken.) Can try to replicate stuff lecture environment, everyone sitting in rows … or have something more interactive. Interesting how we transpose traditional models that aren’t necessarily appropriate – e.g. building copies of physical campuses, no need to visit an empty reproduction. So use spaces more imaginatively.

Building your online identity: Increasing student blogs. tags – research, wisdom, travel, karate. Personalisation.  Niall happy with LPs, cassettes, MP3s, transition across groups. Young people build identity through Facebook etc, tell the world their interests, relationships and so on. Gives you a much better network of people, professional and social relation brings you closer together.

Making content interactive: e-assessment with feedback, based on your answer. Use internet for what it’s good for.

Ownership and sharing: MyStuff – eportfolio system. Share documents, store for your benefit, tag them, share them with other students, tutors, future employer. Compile in to larger collection. Problems with MyStuff – user interface confusing to students, and is also very slow. Planning to replace, but will take a long time. Looking at e.g. Mahara (works with Moodle) and PebblePad, Google Apps for Education, Microsoft Live@edu.  Google Docs – instant speed even though hosted in US. We could use this for the content repository side easily.

Reflection: Templates for reflection on learning outcomes. (Glimpse of Niall’s browser toolbar – RSS feeds from Grainne, Tony, Martin, Alan Cann …)

Moodle grade book – rich data to tutors immediately after students have done test. Wiki report showing breakdown of activity/contributions – have some courses requiring use of wiki, this is one way of assessing.

Studying on the move – much hype, but we’re now having sophisticated platforms (iPhone, Android, etc). Can do so much more now. Many/most students will have very sophisticated device that will browse web, view course content, do quiz, etc, from wherever.

VLE and other systems – must be like accessibility, think about it from the start, ensure accessible from mobile devices. Like BBC sites at present – all our systems need to be built like that.

learn.open.ac.uk/site/lio Learning Innovation Office site, under development. Niall’s blog at sclater.com.

Thanks to Ben Mestel, Maths Online Team, Rhodri Thomas.

Q (Martyn Cooper): Accessibility and mobile learning. EU4All content personalisation responding to accessibility profiles and device profiles – optimise content based on both of those. Who reviews this?

A: We have a big project underway, want to bring you (Martyn) in, LTS.

Q: Diversity of devices very important for accessibility.

A: Indeed.

Q: (Carol ?, LTS): Google Apps. Why do we develop custom things when there are good apps already out there? It’s disadvantaging our students, less transferable.

A: Key questions grappling with. (mobile phone sound … but can’t find the source. Oh dear.)

Q: Not rude to turn off phones, it’s setting aside time. Would be rude to take attention away.

A: Maybe this is a net generation thing. Conferences have people using devices constantly; don’t find it rude any more, my duty to get people interested. But understand that people find it offensive.  Alas, experiment has failed.

Back to in-house vs external – have had endless debates with Tony Hirst and Martin Weller on this. Can create a ‘VLE’ online out of many things – but putting big burden on students to remember/learn many sites. Can’t assess accessibility.  Can’t guarantee service (but if ours we can do something).

Q: (Will Woods, IET): Students using Twitter, blogs, etc – staff stuck in email as main communication channel. Small clique at OU using Twitter. Can we improve internal channels? Cultural change?

A: Is an issue. Is a very email-based culture. Use it too much? Twitter … has its place, but can’t guarantee people are reading it. How do we move everyone on to new technologies? Should we try to? People understand internet is a bigger thing, less opposition to elearning. Thoughts in audience?

Q: Robin Stenham – Moodle tools give us many different tools to communicate, can share learning; forum tool vs Outlook. Moderating on forum can be very useful. E.g. using email ‘send in your expenses’ and everyone does reply-all. Misappropriating technologies. Gets 100 emails a day, of which 30-40 are streams/CC-in a discussion.

A: Yes, cognitive overload. Wiki a useful tool, putting some committee papers on wikis so don’t need them on the hard disk. (Denise) Points out that we’re encouraging people to use VLE tools themselves, so staff are experimenting with tools to understand how to use them with students. You can use VLE in your departments.

Q: Janet Churchill (HR Development): HR Development are trying to upskill staff in new technologies. Emailogic course from AACS to help people get most out of it, not inappropriately copying people in. Development opportunities now extending beyond trad training – now have secondlife presence for feedback sessions. ILM courses have online Plug – we have an induction process, online induction tool, looking for people to put in touch with external agencies to build an online induction tool that’s more engaging.

Move to general questions.

Niall: Interesting to analyse what’s going on in conferences. E.g. people commenting on and sharing what you’re saying. Can’t assume people are ignoring you.  But our experiment (on mobiles) has failed.

DK: Experiment hasn’t failed, just hasn’t given you the result you wanted.

Giles Clark, LTS: eTexts. Took view not to enhance our e-texts wrt print. Should we stay like that? Keep electronic version exactly as in print? Or further develop – insert animations, collaborative activities – or is that for surrounding VLE?

Niall: Is potential to do more with our online PDFs. Can’t stay still and go for common denominator. Paper will long have a role. Some quite happy to read on phone/device, could be generational.

Denise: Lots of exciting opps in tech, but accompanied esp for us with challenges. We as OU have to be able to do it at scale.  Can do sexy experiments with e.g. 30 students in a classroom.  But doing it with thousands of distributed students very different, scale. We need to be more efficient and economic, tough times. Hard decisions: nice bespoke examples, or go for scale for all courses. Must explore opportunities, cost out, see scalability – then answer.

Thanks to all.

Appropriation and the real function of artefacts

What’s the educational use of an iPod?

Al Briggs points to an article in the Independent about the Teaching Awards last month.  (Incidentally, these were an idea of Lord Puttnam’s, who’s now the OU’s Chancellor.) Shawlands Academy in Glasgow won an award for a scheme where the kids got iPods.  Al comments:

On seeing the headline I thought this would be an education related story but the iPod prizes are used as an incentive for the students to eat more healthily.

The overall story is one that we already know – iPods are extremely attractive to students.

I am left with the thought – wouldn’t it be great if they were being used not just to encourage healthy eating but to encourage and increase engagement in education.

I’ve even heard that you can put educational materials on them!

It reminds me of that old barometer anecdote (dissected here by Snopes and Wikipedia) where a mythical physics student is asked how they would determine the height of a tall building using a skyscraper barometer.  The student dodges the ‘obvious’ answer (measuring air pressure at top and bottom) by reeling off a list of imaginitive ways it could be done (throwing it over the side and timing its descent, various trigonometric shenanigans, use it as a pendulum bob top and bottom, etc), before they finally suggest going up to the building’s caretaker and saying “I’ll give you this shiny new barometer if you’ll tell me how tall your building is.”

The ‘obvious’ answer is not always the best one.  The obvious use of an iPod to promote learning is to put educational podcasts on it.  That’s not a wrong answer by any means: I’m a huge fan of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time podcast and of course our own OU presence on iTunesU – as plugged by my colleague Peter Scott in the Guardian recently.  But a significant revealed social function of an iPod is (and always has been) to be a desirable consumer good.  Harnessing that function rather than the MP3-playing one may be a better option sometimes.   “I’ll give you this shiny new iPod if you show me how much you’ve learned.”

Though there is, of course, the danger of hamfisted attempts at extrinsic motivation undermining learners’ intrinsic motivation.

Questions from Scholarship in the digital age

Someone – Use Viewlet builder – do internal training with it.

Tony Nixon, MCT – Retain boundaries in University? Case for?

VC – Much more interdisciplinarity in calls for research funding, so breaking down boundaries is happening and matches the real world. Systems thinking is key; we have the best systems thinking group in the country.

Eileen Scanlon, IET – Conflict between move to Research Excellence Framework, citations framework – versus more open view.

VC – Not sure there is a conflict. Traditional measures take a long time to change. Want OU to be at the forefront of how we do measure those things.  Have philosophy (??!) blogger getting a lot of attention and reputation. Some academics deciding not to publish in print but just go to the web: academics are pushing at it.  More traditional measures are going to see enormous changes.

Brigid Heywood, Pro-VC Research – The REF is going to use very traditional measures – publish, citation. Academics should disseminate freely – but capture peer review and impact on the disciplines as well.  That’s the ground where we can lead.  In 2010 it’ll be classic measures, but we have a part to play in the new space.  All media to be used, but show peer review and academic impact too.

Web question – Martin Weller – via Twitter – Recognise in promotions criteria?  VC – yes of course.

Josie Taylor – move to Web 2.0 as scholars isn’t just learning to use the tools, it’s a culture shift.  Many of our colleagues need to recognise the demands on them – to rethink research and course development.  Very demanding!  VC agrees.

Anne deRoeck – Sustainability questions.  Web 2.0 turns everyone in to a publisher, but not in to a reader. Lots of stuff written but not read.  And environmental impact of technology.  Technologies are very new; has to be managed to make it sustainable.  How?

VC – Technology can help – e.g. collaborate online rather than drive or fly.  

Council member – how to get employer engagement, commercial ventures etc – how can OU lead on that area?

VC – People underestimate how much employer engagement we already do. But not shrinking from expanding it. A real grip on all this will make us more reputable and desirable to employers. Our stuff will show in the workplace.  Engage over what skills they want employees/graduates to have – and ability to work with the technology, and teamwork – are big there.  Management of teams learned via games.

Steve Swinthenby – Inclusion. Scholarship of inclusion?

VC – No favours by telling students you’re too poor or socially deprived to be engaged with technology.  Was pleased with Gordon Brown about giving broadband assistance to families – will help us greatly.  Access to Learning fund will include computers, we help in the costs of broadband for students.  And they think it’s fun and they enjoy it.  We have a problem with young men falling out of education – and they love the technology.

Pro-Chancellor (Lord Haskins) – Consumer power – e.g. reading bits from a newspaper.  A dangerous trend, narrows horizons – consumers are not guided through by an editor.  The same could happen in learning: students could set the agenda.  Consumer power has gone too far in some instances.  Academics will be running after the students, instead of helping students wider [their horizons].

VC – You won’t find that – academics aren’t engaging with the technology.  Still academics’ role to do assessment, curriculum design, students want the accreditation that comes out of that, and that’s a very powerful position so it’s not going out of the window.  Need to engage people more in learning. Participatory thing is good.

Conclusion – Pro-Chancellor (Lord Haskins) – VC has been a world leader in this, people listen to her wherever she goes.

Medium and message (liveblogging debate round 2)

Today, the OU’s Vice Chancellor, is giving a speech to Council (the OU’s governing body – like the Board of a company) and an internal audience on ‘Scholarship in the Digital Age’.  She will be speaking “about the impact of new technologies, including Web 3.0, on the University’s business: how it affects teaching, research and the student learning experience”.

I’m really encouraged: this is exactly the focus we as a University need to be taking.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s my area and so I obviously think it’s important. (Although there probably is an element of that.)  I’ve said before that the VC is reading the right stuff (e.g. Here Comes Everybody) and there was further proof in the internal publicity for the talk – it was accompanied by a big copy of the xkcd Online Communities map:

But I’m also worried about whether to bring my laptop or not.  Last time I liveblogged from a talk by the VC, people complained – entirely reasonably – that I was disturbing them with my typing – which I was.  I did a post arguing (not entirely clearly) that the fact that such typing was disruptive showed that we have a mountain to climb in getting the OU to where we need to go. The discussion generated more traffic – and blog links – on here than anything else I’ve written, and ended up with me realising that by (inadvertently) reinforcing the stereotype of laptop users as antisocial inconsiderate types, I’d set things back, not forward.

Just to be totally clear: I am not saying that people are wrong when they say they are being disturbed.  They are being disturbed, and that impairs their ability to hear and understand what’s going on.  And with this particular presentation, people who aren’t (yet) natural laptop users and bloggers are the ones who really need to hear it: us techies are the choir the VC is preaching to here.

So do I bring it or not?  If I do, it’ll disturb people.  If I don’t, we lose (some of) the benefits of doing just what (I expect) the VC will be exhorting us to do.

Happily, our Comms team have come up with an excellent compromise: there’ll be a blogger area outside, with a screen showing the VC, and we can hammer away on keyboards to our hearts’ content without disturbing people who find such things distracting.  (There may even be sufficient power sockets!)

It’s not ideal – to exclude this group from the room itself is a little unfortunate.  But I’d rather leave the people inside free of distractions from technology so that they can come to love (appropriately used) technology.

… and I’m also going to try to keep the meta-discussion about liveblogging separate from the actual stuff, at least on here.  I’m sure there’ll be all sorts of stuff on Twitter.