Monday, September 24, 2007

More ramblings.....

In this last year three different reports have addressed the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. They each discuss the main facets such as who is involved, why people have become involved, the recent developments that have made it possible, what the inhibitors of further success are and recommendations for the future. OER is the basis for each report and although they discuss many of the same issues, each brings to the table a different emphasis.

One of the reports speaks to these issues as they relate to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that has backed the movement financially, creating the infrastructure needed for the movement to take hold. The authors take a look back and a look forward, making recommendations for further successes.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) report represents the perspective of 30 democratic governments concerned about issues relating to globalization and the information society with its technological developments that are creating an opportunity for change in the teaching and learning environments. Those unfamiliar with the OER movement can learn much about its facets by reading this report first. It will also help those who are trying to further the cause in that it maps out the movement and helps one understand what the many motivations have been to become involved.

The Open e-Learning Content Observatory (OLCOS) is a European e-Learning Program that fosters OER in Europe and beyond. This was one of my favorite pieces to read. They seem to have a depth of understanding about the future of teaching. E-Learning once had such promise when it began. But the F2F mentality, the industrial classroom proponents soon turned it into a huge financial burden (buying expensive equipment and brick and mortar buildings to house it in). It soon became all but an abandoned ship wreck (or a steam engine that is out of steam). OLCOS reminds us that the product-centric view of the past is a barrier. We have the tools, we have the digital students, we now need innovation. We need to follow the philosophy of open content to transform our classrooms into open practices. But we can’t expect to do this if we don’t invest in teacher training and support.

I could take up a lot of space talking about various pieces of OER. But the one I wish to discuss here is localization, with a twist.

Attempting to localize content is an exercise for teacher-centered domains. We can see, although it is like looking through dense fog, that OER is about changing the way we teach, letting go and letting the student learn. The localization of content needs to rest upon the shoulders of the end-user, the student and not the teacher. Nothing can be culturally neutral. Content is content and it must be good, but localization cannot be created in the content. Who can know what all the many components of localization can be? No one here on earth, that is for sure. So it becomes a matter of training a student to be a master student who can recognize when change is needed and know how to implement it to make the content relevant.

Now for the twist. I learned, as a child, to localize content. Every school book and every classroom treated me as though I were invisible. Everything was written to boys, about boys and for boys and everything they were interested in. Recently I sat in a lecture given by a ‘main player’ in the OER movement. All of the visual examples of teachers that this person presented in his powerpoint were exclusively of men. I had to localize content. I had to make a shift and tell myself that women are also among those in the teaching profession.

And then an interesting thing happened while I was reading about the opensource movement a few months ago. Many believe that the opensource movement is one of the contributing forces behind OER. Without it, the Hewlett Foundation would not have a reason to build the infrastructure. In one of the books I read, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, edited by Joseph Feller, the author of chapter 2, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, presented the results of a survey from the FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) project that involved over 2,700 respondents. Almost all (98.9%) of the respondents who claimed to be opensource developers were male. This survey was compared with two other surveys that claimed the same kind of results: WIDI survey (6,000 respondents – 98.6% male) and the BCG survey of which 98% male (pp 30-31). That made me curious about what the figures were for who was contributing to the OER projects. I know they are very different projects, different kinds of players, but I still couldn’t help but wonder what the numbers looked like. At USU I found that out of 68 courses on the OCW website, four were represented as being created by women. That means that roughly 94% of the contributions were from males.

One of the goals of OER, as pointed out in all three reports, is the breaking down of barriers so that all humans can benefit from education. But unless we are very careful, this new “learning culture” may become a myopic product with all of its attendant tribulations. We have sadly learned in recent decades that the absence of attention to gender issues is actually a type of oppression, an inequality in itself. “Men often deny bias because they fail to recognize it. They usually don’t need to; it does not significantly affect their lives. As with race, part of the privilege of dominance is the privilege of accepting without noticing the benefit” (Rhode, 1997, p.3).

There may be many reasons why women are not contributing to OER in numbers commensurate with their numbers in the educational professions. It has been suggested that they are more likely to be technophobic or lack the same amount of time that males have (because of their other, unpaid jobs or because they are involved in too many committees). Whatever the reason, I think it is worth investigating. One of the reports talked about the concern that most of the OER available is in English and from the United States. More people, of all genders, races and cultures need to be brought into the OER movement. Those of us who are part of the movement need to be very diligent about inviting a wide spectrum of contributors to OER, from the contacts we make around the world.