OLnet: next steps with OER research

I’m involved in the very exciting OLnet project, which is building research infrastructure to understand the Open Educational Resource (OER) world.

The elevator pitch: there’s shedloads of high-quality learning materials available, but not a lot of research in to the entire area, even at a baseline level of project-level evaluation.  The OU’s Open Learn was unusual in having a strong Research and Evaluation strand, led by Patrick McAndrew, and the Hewlett Foundation has now funded OLnet to build research capacity across the OER world.  It’s a partnership between the Open University and Carnegie Mellon, but we’ll be bringing in Fellows from far beyond.

The OLnet project proposal sets out our vision and aims, and the nascent OLnet site itself is the place to go for updates and definitive information.  We had a really successful presence at the OER conference in Monterey last month where we launched the project and captured activity and contacts there using Cloudworks.

We’ve just had another brainstorming activity about what we should be doing (as you do when you’ve been running a project for a couple of months), and here are some desperately rough-and-ready notes I made from my post-its.

NB These are very much drafts: some are silly ideas, and some are in fact things we promised to do in the proposal and are very much still signed up to do and I have merely failed to articulate that here due to cognitive impairment.

So, my notes of Things Wot We Could Do:

Enumerate/map out (dumb and smart – blog post/XML/Cohere map) all known OER projects
Bread-and-butter survey and interviews evaluating all known OER projects. (Have good baseline but not exhaustive; warm contacts for Hewlett-funded projects thanks to Monterey conference last month).

Enumerate/map out (dumb and smart again) all OER bloggers / blog aggregator. Or in fact point to existing authoritative source(s) (Again have good baseline but need to do a little more stuff to span out.)

More active OLnet blog – specified role for OLnet researchers/fellows? Or employ someone for it

Lab/research toolbox – HOWTO – how to research/evaluate your OER project, open-by-default, makes results available in open format instantly, can see how your project compares to others; OR just do the coordinating activity based around microformats/shared practice. Aim to show benefit from researching in open/OER way (see comparison with others)

Tracking package/toolkit – easy drop-in stuff fro tracking learners, tracking re-use. Link to existing Hewlett project trying to integrate Google Analytics across all OER projects; we have close link to it but aren’t part of it at the moment.

Big tech effort to provide automated OER remix/reuse/repost-tracking stuff – like plagiarism detection software. Heavy on the tech stuff but could be very exciting to do in open mode – most plagiarism detection stuff is terribly proprietary.

Working space for researchers – on OLnet site.

Baseline literature review – useful output, good to build on.

Research agenda-setting activity, or research framework setting – meetings, mappings, real, online stuff.   Like Roadmap activities in previous projects but reinvented in OER mode.

Explore impact of licenses on reuse/remix/repost/etc – the David Wiley/Stephen Downes debate about CC-BY (or less!) vs NC-SA – admits of an empirical answer to illuminate the philosophical one?

Explore models of sustainable OER learning. Yet further.

Investigate technologies – scope, pilot new ones – for supporting OER research. E.g. reputation management system, FOAF, SIOC. Cross-site identity management (OpenID vs Facebook Connect vs throwaway logins).

Single sign-on for all ‘our’ stuff – Drupal integration with SAMS (very OU centric but possibly allows us to have single sign-on from Open Learn through to OLnet …)