Prototyping a national survey

At BCcampus we are often asked how British Columbia higher education stacks up against other Canadian provinces for the management of online learning.


Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Image: Symbol for survey administration.

We have some data on the number of courses offered online and at a distance, as well as data on the kinds of online systems that our institutions are using.

But to date, there has not been a national survey in Canada that takes a detailed look at all the management practices associated with online learning in higher education.

We often end up pointing to the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) reports that are prepared on an annual basis in the United States. And, our colleagues at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) assist with publishing the results of the Campus Computing Project survey at the annual WCET conference.  Nothing similar happens in Canada.

Because no independent body in Canada appears to responding to this data vacuum, we’ve decide to prototype a survey instrument this year with our colleagues at eCampus Alberta, and we hope to invite OntarioLearn and ContactNorth to take the plunge with us.  Our intention is to prototype a survey that would allow us to compare data across Canada with similar data from the US.

The areas we hope to survey include:

  • Policies, Plans & Budgets – Do you have a strategic plan for educational technology? Are there policies around use of social media, phones in the classroom, …? What % of your IT budget is for educational technology?
  • Credentials, Programs, Curricula – What academic areas are online? What online programs do you offer? Credentials offered? Just courses? Using blended? Using fully online? Number of students involved?
  • Infrastructure – On campus, shared system wide, cloud computing?
  • Education technologies and LMS strategies – Spectrum of technologies used? Collaboration tools? Mobile? Social media? Single sign on? E-mail? …?
  • Governance – Responsible authority / unit CIO? VP Academic? Teaching & Learning Centres? Deans / autonomous units?
  • Staffing – Educational technology specialists? Instructional designers, media producers? Tech support?
  • Practices – Pedagogies, funding/release time for development? Quality? Openness? Accessibility? Faculty development?
  • Futures – Plans to do more? Partners? Trends and directions? Recommendations? Wish lists?

We invite feedback on questions or areas of practice that would be useful to probe within a national survey of online learning in higher education in Canada.


On the Eastern front

At BCcampus we usually get only one chance in any year to travel to Ottawa.

So, we were really pleased to line up three excellent sessions during the week of January 30, 2012 to talk about educational technology topics from a national perspective and to consider collaborative approaches on national scale that might work to benefit us all in the post-secondary sector.

Photo: Yann Fauché & Alma Mulalic. Parliament of Canada – Changing the Guard Ceremony.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic


Last week my colleague Paul Stacey and I were in Ottawa for a series of meetings with federal government contacts at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

We also met with our “e-campus” partners from eCampusAlbertaOntarioLearn and Contact North.

And, we had discussions about rekindling a pan-Canadian approach to a Creative Commons Canada affiliate with (University of Ottawa Law School) and a Athabasca University. I’ll leave this part of the post for Paul Stacey to report and elaborate.

Our contacts at HRSDC set us up perfectly for a meeting with more than 20 participants from across federal government departments. They asked us to share a presentation on our work at BCcampus and then to situate the work in a national context. They also asked us to react to three skill-testing questions in the following areas during a three-hour session:

  • Describe one or two real life examples in detail of the kinds of collaborative and innovative efforts by your member institutions – - and BCampus’s role in helping to bring these about. This will help people start with a tangible idea of the “what”, and provides a foundation on which to ground loftier extrapolations of how PSE may further transform in the future.
  • Provide quantifiable evidence of the efficiency gains that such collaborative innovations have been able to achieve (in terms of either improved learning opportunities and outcomes or cost-savings, or both) and which thereby provide the main lines of the business case for governments and institutions to further expand such efforts in the future.
  • Provide views on implications (if any) for HRSDC and more broadly for the Government of Canada. Are there federal programs or policies that should be adjusted to better support the efforts of institutions and provincial governments to expand efficient learning practices? Are there aspects of the modernization of PSE in Canada that require pan-Canadian coordination in order to achieve optimal economies of scale? And among these, do any require federal government involvement?

From the questions we were pitched from a primarily policy analyst audience, it was clear that government departments nationally, like their provincial counterparts, are looking for educational technologies to prove themselves on a number of levels of influence – strategic, pedagogic and economic.

Image: BCcampus 2012. CC_BY.

We were pleased to use our presentation and clear examples within it to reinforce the point that innovative and collaborative practices do have a measurable value proposition on those three levels.

We also made a pitch for HRSDC to consider some action initiatives it might support that could build towards a real national strategy:

  1. Support the design of a resource library to share “open” trades training resources (Red Seal) across Canada
  2. Support a prototype national survey (initially with 3 provinces – AB, BC, ON) to explore issues associated with management of online learning, faculty development, use of open resources, cloud-based delivery infrastructure, and quality assurance strategies
  3. Support the establishment of a Creative Commons Canada as a Canada-wide open licensing service benefiting all provinces, sectors and creators
  4. Help define the public service, economic benefits, and business models available to Canadians through open licensing
  5. Support the generation of an action agenda and set of targets for solving skills and labour market needs through OER and educational partnerships.
  6. Support the development of technical linkages between CoursesBC, BC Transfer Guide, Education Planner, and Job Trends data to help students identify gaps in their transcripts or program opportunities that link well with employment opportunities

Systemic collaboration is our strategy

We believe that establishing a systemic responses to educational technology challenges and opportunities in the BC higher education sector is the key strategy for BCcampus.

So, we’re happy to announce that the BCcampus Strategic Council has approved our strategic plan for 2012-2015 and has directed us to proceed to drafting a fiscal year service plan for 2012-2013.

A previous post on evergreen strategic planning outlined some of the sources we’ve researched to write a plan that allows us to push into new educational technology focus areas while strengthening and maintaining the systemic infrastructure we’ve built in British Columbia to support the online learning initiatives of our system partners.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions about operational tactics that will allow us to achieve the key directions and goals outlined in our strategic plan.

Evergreen strategic planning

Compass image by Jaypee. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

At BCcampus we monitor a number of sources for new information about strategic initiatives with systemic focus, internationally, nationally and regionally.  We keep an “evergreen” plan bubbling on the front burner, review it annually, and then take it forward to our Strategic Council for review and ratification. The plan provides the framework for our annual service plan that is funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education.

Our sources also include local institutions and their planning documents, as well as peer organizations worldwide.

This year we asked one our creative SFU co-op education students, Diana Chan, to put together a meta-view of all the relevant plans within the British Columbia post-secondary sector. Diana came up with a very nice annotated view as a GoogleDoc with links to the specific documents. You can see the meta-view here: Strategic Plan Research Summary.

In addition we have also received strategy documents from the Council of Senior Student Affairs Leaders (CSSAL) and from our AskAway colleagues at the BC Electronic Library Network.

Further afield, these are some of the information sources we reviewed in building our draft 2012-2015 plan:

Australia – Open Universities Australia (OUA) like BCcampus, is a relatively new initiative that provides centralized access to online courses with transferable credit in the Australian university context on a national basis.

The Campus Computing Project annually publishes an update on the management of information technology in the higher education sector. This year’s survey is titled, The 2011 national survey of information technology in U.S. higher education: big gains in going mobile; slow movement to cloud computing.

Canadian colleagues and organizations with whom we work with closely and share ideas for improvement:

  • – We have hosted delegations, board members and staff from Contact North (Ontario) at BCcampus, and are currently working with ContactNorth in a consulting capacity to plan an exciting new initiative in Ontario that will incorporate some BCcampus service models
  • – BCcampus has collaborated on professional learning initiatives with colleagues at eCampusAlberta and has contributed OPDF models for use in Alberta

EDUCAUSE BCcampus is an institutional member of this US-based organization that organizes research and practice knowledge about information and communications technology (ICT) for higher education professionals globally. Adrian Sannier’s article in the most recent edition of the EDUCAUSE Review, If not now, when?, provides lots of food for thought about technology-induced disruptive change on the horizon for higher education.

Horizon Report BCcampus monitors the influential yearly Horizon Report published by the New Media Consortium. BCcampus staff member, Scott Leslie, has served on the advisory board for the NMC Horizon Report.

JISC United Kingdom – BCcampus has hosted individuals and met with JISC delegations in BC. We follow JISC’s strategic directions. JISC is a national entity in the UK that provides infrastructure and supports ICT research and innovation.

OECD – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes working papers and research documents relevant to higher education in a global context. OECD’s most recent report is Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society – Pointers for Policy Development. The first set of strategic initiatives undertaken by BCcampus in 2003- 2006 were reinforced by recommendations from OECD’s (2005) research publication E-learning in tertiary education: Where do we stand. These initiatives included:

  • Encouraging the dissemination of good practices to stimulate innovation, avoid wasteful duplication of efforts, and scale up successful experiments.
  • Exploring the issues surrounding intellectual property in e-learning and specifically the exploration of open educational resources (OER).
  • Promoting a dialogue between IT providers and institutions, and supporting public-private partnerships, in order to keep costs at a reasonable level.

The Open Education Resource Foundation continues to probe and challenge higher education thinkers and practitioners to consider an alternative future in which open educational resources become the study materials for students who choose to pursue independent study practices towards a credential awarded partially through challenge or prior learning assessment and recognition. Already anchor partners in the Open Education Resource University (OERu) consortium are actively considering how to implement this version of the future.

Sloan Consortium Report 2011. These annual survey reports from the US are solid indicators of current practices and trending opportunities within the higher duration sector.

SURF Netherlands – BCcampus has hosted delegations from SURF at our Vancouver offices. We follow SURF’s strategic directions closely. SURF has a national responsibility for infrastructure, innovation and ICT research in the Netherland, similar to JISC in the UK.

WCET BCcampus is an institutional member of the WICHE Cooperative on Educational Technologies, and co-chairs the WCET eLearning Common Interest Group (CIG) that surveys systemic consortia in the US and Canada on a yearly basis. WCET is the largest and most well-known colleague network for e-learning consortia members worldwide. It is a child organization of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), and is based in Boulder, Colorado.

Flexible learning revisited

BCcampus’s leadership in enabling distance learning and flexible trades training has attracted international attention.

Yesterday, we had a visit at BCcampus from David Scannell, Curriculum Services Manager in the Learning Innovation and Development unit from Holmesglen Institute in Australia.

Holmesglen is a TAFE. In Australiatraining and further education or TAFE (pronounced /ˈteɪf/) institutions provide a wide range of predominantly vocational tertiary education courses, mostly qualifying courses under the National Training System / Australian Qualifications Framework. (Source: Wikipedia)

Lawrence Parisotto (BCcampus) meets with David Scannell (Holmesglen, Australia)

The purpose of David’s visit to Canada is to investigate innovative practices in flexible learning for trades training.  He visited BCcampus to find out more about our systemic role with educational technology, and more specifically about the BCcampus role in designing and facilitating the framework for the E-PPRENTICE initiative that was funded by the Industry Training Authority of BC (ITACBC) in 2009-2010.

Our conversation with David Scannell reminded us that one of the ideas we originally proposed for E-PPRENTICE was a digital library of open resources for flexible trades training. Our thinking was that such a library could generate value well beyond the borders of BC by building synergistic relationships with other trades training institutions or providers. More further down…

Flexible Learning Revisited.

Flexible learning (FL) is a delivery model that responds to the unique learning needs of individual learners. FL combines traditional classroom or lab/shop experience with online or distributed learning, when a learner is primarily at a distance from the instructor and teaching institution. Learners in flexible learning programs or courses usually have a choice of schedule, as course calendars are not bound by time and space. Recent years have seen an increase in the use of emerging electronic technologies in flexible learning such as simulations and the Internet, offering the possibilities for sophisticated, interactive, and engaging learning opportunities for trades training programs, too.

The strategy for the E-PPRENTICE initiative resulted from an extensive planning process commissioned by ITABC for the development of a strategy to develop alternative modes of delivery for trades training. The intent of the initiative was to increase access for trainees and improve their success and completion rates. Read the Report.

Subsequently, the development of a Business Plan to move the project forward was requested. The Business Plan identified a number of specific objectives including a delivery model, an instructional plan, a set of standards, communication plan, along with an action plan and timetable for the strategy. Read the Business Plan

The ITA and BCcampus also created a Draft Standards for Flexible Learning for Trades Training in British Columbia document intended to explain fundamental components of flexible learning and serve as a guide for educators and those developing quality resources for the flexible learning environment.

As a result of the innovative initiative, E-PPRENTICE trades programs were developed for automotive programs at Vancouver Community College, professional cook programs at Camosun College and welding programs at the Piping Institute Apprenticeship Board (PIAB), and these programs are currently being offered to apprenticeship students around BC.

Where to next?

One of ideas from the original E-PPRENTICE plan was to create a library of open digital resources that could be used for both flexible learning and in other delivery formats within vocational programs.

The E-PPRENTICE program was developed with public funding.  Why not build a digital library to house the products of development, make them open and accessible and invite others to improve them and provide access the improved remixes? Surely that would be a great way to leverage public investment for the greater good while demonstrating a willingness to cooperate and collaborate to develop high quality learning materials for vocational programs.

One day after our visit with David Scannell, we were contacted by our partner agency ITABC to consider how we might reignite the notion of an open digital library for flexible trades training resources.

Sometimes the stars do align.

Renewing our focus on open thinking

With an inspiring speech by Sir John Daniel, CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, the BCcampus Opening Education event kicked off on Monday, October 17 at the wonderful Simon Fraser University Centre for the Arts.

As a prelude to Open Access Week, BCcampus and partners invited higher education institutional participants to a special event exploring the ways in which Open Access and Open Educational Resources (OER) are opening up education, and probing how these ideas might provide an action agenda for BC higher education practitioners.

The event included a keynote address and panel presentations in the morning, and interactive sessions in the afternoon that were designed to collect feedback from the face-to-face participants as well as from online participants who followed the day’s events via live web streams and a backchannel Twitter feed. The web stream archive for each section of the Opening Education event can be found here –>

Sir John Daniel’s speech on the topic of Publishing with Public Money for Public Benefit set the tone for the day on a high plane, one that validated the interest and commitment of audience members for making educational materials more freely accessible and remixable. Sir John’s speech also challenged us to confidently marshall our arguments in support of open education, open government and open data – in his words, “to provide a common wealth.”

The panelists, Venkataraman Balaji (COL), Wayne Mackintosh (OER Foundation), Rory McGreal (AthabascaU) and Joy Kirchner (UBC Library), each took a turn highlighting opportunities in the OER space for higher education institutions to engage students and instructors about the principles of open thinking. In each case the panelists demonstrated examples of practice from their areas of interest to show what is possible and where the future could take us. Their panel segments were web streamed.

  • Balaji’s segment showed how COL has instituted open policies for its collection of highly valuable educational resources. He also complimented Canada’s expertise in agricultural sciences and noted that open knowledge in this domain could be used globally in support of food security initiatives
  • Wayne provided a passionate overview of his work with world-class open projects such as WikiEducator and the newly minted concept of the Open Education Resource University (OERu)
  • Rory spoke with his customary vigour about copyright and educational rights, highlighting Athabasca University’s approach to providing open access journals and other resources that it believes should be freely accessible under the mantra of open scholarship
  • Joy presented a recent case-study of action on the scholarly communications front at the University of British Columbia, illustrating the actions that a large university must undertake in an effort to support its employees, instructors and students to operationalize a balanced approach to copyright management and open access

In the afternoon, Paul Stacey led an interactive session using wireless clickers to probe and collect audience opinion on issues associated with open thinking that might help us to build a systemic action agenda within the BC higher education sector.

Workshop participants discuss an “open” action agenda for BC higher education.

I followed Paul with an Etherpad session with the face-to-face participants and online audience to collect ideas on three themes that might helps us move forward on the open front.

  1. How do we help educators learn more about open?
  2. How can we best promote open teaching and learning practices in our institutions?
  3. What can we do to influence policy in institutions?

For me it was a refreshing and re-energizing day, one that reinforced the spiral approach that needs to occur with innovative ideas as they move from the periphery to the centre of our thinking.

Open content and open access in higher education are barely 10-year old concepts in a digital age, but ones that I truly believe are beginning to show signs of becoming a larger part of the consciousness of students, instructors and institutions.

This may be the year…

UBC Central.tiff

The stars are aligning in interesting ways to start this academic year.

It will certainly be a year of big challenges. And with those challenges will come the potential for breakthrough risk :: reward scenarios.

One of the challenges alluded to by the tweet copied above will be how institutions and instructors manage access to published educational resources for their courses, given the decision by UBC and a growing number of Canadian universities to back away from Access Copyright agreements. The proposed tariff increase was rightly viewed as gouging, and so 26 post-secondary institutions have decided to explore other options.

The options include direct negotiation with authors and publishers, as well as increased exploration of emerging alternatives such as open textbooks and other open educational resources (OER). No doubt there are many instances where the best resource is a published textbook or authored work. So, institutions will directly negotiate those rights as required to provide the resources that instructors and students can use.

And yes, it may be painful initially to move away from the current method of acquiring course-pack licenses, but the opportunity horizon is optimal for a new economy based on open resources, collaboratively built and shared among educators using Creative Commons licenses. This scenario is the upside that will be catalyzed by the proposed Access Copyright (AC) tariff increase that many major institutions are emphatically rejecting.

This may be the year that open educational resources become a mainstream alternative.

When more quickly becomes waaay less

Took a flyer this week on participation in the big eduMOOC. Specifically, I thought I would participate in the OERu study group.

Nice explanation of MOOC concepts below by Neal Gillis and Dave Cormier highlights the potential of the MOOC. ( [CC-BY-3.0 or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

But after reading just a few posts and getting a sense of the fire hose approach of MOOCdom, I’m reflecting seriously on my choices.

Not really sure what I’m missing, but a Twitter comment I read from Scott Leslie last week resonates. He wrote:


For me it is even more fundamental than another meta-level discussion of educational practice, as Scott notes.

How can page upon page of densely packed text, links, and discussion forums seriously be considered an exemplar learning model? The pain for gain threshold seems too high.

This can’t be the future, can it?

Amazing us at the ETUG 11 conference

Amazing stories.jpg

June 2 was the second time I’ve had the opportunity to hear Alan Levine do his Amazing Stories of Openness keynote. The first time was at OpenEd 2009 in Vancouver and I wrote about at the time, calling it “a paradigm buster of a prezo, using the words of others to underscore the resonant value in openness.”

Alan did it again at the ETUG conference in Nelson and this time round worked in a few audience members’ stories by live-capturing their testimonies from within the keynote session and then publishing them to his story site – a bold demonstration of open production in the wild.

The visual at the top of this post is a representation of the event done by Michelle LaurieSylvia Currie and Rachael Roussin.

Bringing the BC ID community together

LD Workshop.jpg

For the second spring in row, the instructional design community from BC post-secondary institutions organized a very successful one-day event on ID, that was hosted this year at the Ike Barber Centre at the University of British Columbia. We at BCcampus were pleased to provide some sponsorship for this professional event from our Curriculum Development and Academic Growth initiatives.

50+ professionals participated in a series of small group discussions on key topics including:

  • Innovation/creativity and instructional design
  • Social media, Web 2.0 and instructional design
  • Mobile learning and instructional design
  • Future of instructional design
  • Designing for learning environments that aren’t courses (communities of practice, personal learning environments)

Dr. Tony Bates, mentor to our community, provided a short opening context-setting message and then circulated among the groups to hear the discussion and to pick up intel on the issues raised.

Tony brought the group full circle towards the end of the day with his usual brilliant synthesis of the issues and their implications for learning design and practice. A summary of the day’s activities with photos and video can be found here –> JustID Networking Event – May 2011.

A great day.

Sharing the open message in Malaysia

In May 2011 I had a wonderful opportunity to join colleagues in Asia at a capacity-building workshop on open educational resources (OER) at Wawasan Open University (WOU) in Penang, Malaysia.


In Malaysia, like everywhere I’ve visited in Asia recently, the economy seems to be booming, with more and more Malaysian citizens seeking to upgrade their skills and accreditation by taking advanced studies, many through open and distance learning (ODL). WOU is a new university that is boldly differentiating its programs using a refined approach to ODL that draws on innovative practices and proven technologies that can support learners with their academic quests. So it’s no surprise that Wawasan is also interested in the capabilities afforded by OER for its students and instructors.

In fact one enterprising young faculty member had already built Wawasan’s first prototype course on computer systems from existing and reusable OER materials. By presenting his work in progress, he demonstrated how open scholarship can work, inviting his colleagues to probe and ask about his thinking processes for the course design and the value that he added locally to contextualize the materials for a Malaysian audience. Great stuff from an institutional role model.


Workshop participants joined us from Pakistan, Hong Kong and other Malaysian higher education institutions. They were a highly experienced and knowledgable group that had no difficulty in seeing the promise of open. And like their counterparts in institutions worldwide, their questions focused primarily on how to promote the value of OER consumption and contribution among their colleagues, the quality assurance aspects of open resources, as well as questions of community and how they could find supportive mentors and colleagues to help them move forward.


We workshop facilitators Venkataraman Balaji (COL), Wayne Mackintosh (OER Foundation) and David Porter (BCcampus) provided our individual insights into key OER concepts over three days, using a combination of short 20-minute presentations followed by 20-30 minute activities that involved participants individually and in small groups with hands-on activities designed to immerse them in the “doing part” of OER. We also provided a prototype wiki-based course environment for self-study that we tested and will release for open access in late June 2011.

The workshop was organized and hosted by Tan Sri Dato’ Prof. Gajaraj Dhanarajan, emeritus professor, and Wawasan Open University’s first CEO. Raj has been CEO of Commonwealth of Learning and the Open University of Hong Kong. He is well known as a leader in distance education circles and has a long history of promoting capacity-building activities in Asia and in other parts of the planet.

The workshop materials were funded through IDRC (Canada). The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian government (crown) corporation with a focus on ICTs as a key means to foster development.

Digital futures event at TRU a resounding call for a “recursive public”

What I heard at the Digital Future of Higher Education event at Thompson Rivers University on February 22 in Kamloops was a resounding call to action for open practices in all forms: open education, open learning, open data, open access journals, open educational resources.

Keynote speakers Tony Bates and Michael Peters each provided a unique perspective on the road ahead. And, each used a solid research foundation to support their predictions.

Tony Bates presented with his customary well-documented and researched materials on the current state of technology-enabled learning in our institutions and a view to the future. As a supporter of open education in all its forms, Tony was clear that quality remains the key factor that will help drive open educational resources (OER) from what is primarily a supply phenomenon to one that addresses demand for quality OER teaching materials, too. This particular dynamic is documented in a a recent blog post from Tony, titled “A reflection on the OER debate: every which way but loose.”

Michael Peters provided a another well-researched view of the educational landscape, and expanded on concepts of openness well beyond the OER teaching resources and self-study materials, making a call for more open scholarship and support for a “recursive public.” Michael is editing a journal that is currently calling for papers on “open.” Take a look at the E-learning and Digital Media call for manuscripts about teaching and learning with OER.

I couldn’t find Michael’s paper from the TRU event online, but I did find this 2008 presentation that will give a flavour of his perspective.

On the open education frontier in Mongolia

Mongolia is a place that conjures images of vast steppes, widely separated population centres, nomadic herders and climatic extremes. All real, but with a rapid development agenda ahead.

Image source: By Tengis Bilegsaikhan from Milan, Italy (Naadam) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

I traveled to Mongolia in September 2010 as part of an external resource team and as a guest of the DREAM IT research project. DREAM IT is the local coordinating project for IDRC-funded research in Mongolia. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian government (crown) corporation with a focus on ICTs as a key means to foster development.

Mongolia is developing quickly with almost half its population located in its capital, Ulaanbaatar. One of the first signs I saw in Mongolia was a coming soon billboard for Ikea Ulaanbaatar. Along the roadway from the airport to my city hotel were dealerships for Mercedes and Jeep, as well as breweries that produce the many popular beers you can enjoy in Mongolia. This country is in rapid growth mode.

The city centre had many hotels, restaurants and new shops that demonstrated that Mongolia is quickly becoming a major tourist destination as well as a centre for business and commerce. Sukhbaatar Square at the centre of Ulaanbataar (UB) is an impressively large public square flanked by government buildings and imposing statues.

Traffic in UB is mega, with buses, trucks, SUVs and cars everywhere competing for driving lanes, giving the city a gridlock feel throughout the work day. Getting anywhere, even short distances within the city took a longish time. Contrast this with travel outside the city – in the wide open spaces, where few cars were seen on a 80 kilometre journey to a rural school in Erdene Soum.

The “model” school we visited in Erdene was both well-equipped and well run, judging from what I saw there and from the teachers, students and administrators I met. There were three computer labs we visited. One that was used for teaching high school students and the others that were part of a teacher-training centre within the school.

The administrators were totally up front about what worked and didn’t. Network bandwidth was not always good and the school team has resorted to keeping a set of caching servers available for bandwidth intensive applications such as video programs. Any thoughts of a networked-enabled distance learning initiative would clearly be a challenge. However, anything that relied on distribution systems based on discs and servers would be well supported.

I found references in school texts to a localized version of Joomla in use in Mongolian schools as part of the ICT course for high school students. We also learned that Moodle had been localized for use in Mongolia through a previous DREAM IT research project. Excellent first steps for an ICT education build out.

Mongolia is resource rich. The mining industry is central to country’s future. So, a careful approach to leveraging investment from resource extraction is seen as a key to the development agenda, as is investment in the education and training of the country’s citizens. It’s no coincidence that the DREAM IT project is active in the health, environment, IT and education sectors, sponsoring local research and development and capacity-building initiatives with a view to influencing policy development from the outcomes of successful projects.

During my ten days in Mongolia, I helped deliver a national seminar on distance education and open educational resources (OER) and demonstrated the potential of these strategies for bringing wider access to learning resources for all Mongolians. Educators, administrators, and researchers from the general education and TVET sectors attended the national distance learning and OER seminar and were highly engaged in discussions throughout the day-long event.

Mongolia is actively pursuing an educational reform process that will bring a new shape and structure to its elementary and secondary education systems. At the same time it is embarking on a major initiative to develop an innovative technical and vocational education and training (TVET) initiative supported by the Millennium Challenge Fund.

The primary outcome of the seminar and the many meetings throughout our team’s visit to Mongolia will be a research proposal to DREAM IT for the support of two 18-month long OER capacity-building initiatives in the general education and TVET sectors that will begin in 2011.

I know the initiatives will be a success because the spirit of Chinggis will make it so.


A practical open strategy in the business world

While I was in Vietnam in June 2010 working with university educators from around South Asia on an open and distance learning capacity-building project that involved an OER focus, we visited a new university on the outskirts of Hanoi to have a dialogue about development models and the value of organizational partnerships.

One of the most interesting presentations made during the visit was by OMT Vietnam, an online management training company headed by the dynamic Ms. Dau Thuy Ha. OMT has a cool business model that uses open source software and open educational resources to support both the infrastructure and training needs of the emerging business market in Vietnam.

Many companies are building up their operational capacity across Vietnam and have an emerging need for workplace training. OMT has focused on this business need to provide localized versions of Moodle that can be customized to suit a particular company and be hosted centrally in a virtualized environment. Easy to set up, predictable cost, fully-supported.


To support the training needs of Vietnamese companies, OMT is translating and localizing open educational resources (OERs) that are available from multiple OER sources, including Connexions.

OMT has also joined forces with the Vietnam Foundation’s (VNF) OER initiative and will not only be using open resources to support its own training business, but in the true spirit of open, OMT will make the translated and localized resources available through the VNF’s library of open courseware that can be used by institutions throughout Vietnam.

These kinds of innovative synergies between business and academic organizations on “open terrain” point a way forward to sustainability in my view.

If you know of other similar examples of business and academic synergies in the open domain, please leave a comment and a link.

Nowhere near critical mass

Regrettably, it feels like we are no closer to critical mass and sustainability on the OER front than we were this time last year.


I was pretty cranky in August 2009 during the OpenEd 2009 conference that was held here in Vancouver for which my organization was a co-sponsor. My blog posts during the conference were critical of the primary OER advocates as marketers to teachers and faculty. My criticism was that they were miscast in that role. While they had done a masterful job of illuminating the concept, filling the blogosphere with good ideas, and marketing the promise to foundations that fund innovation, my belief was that it would take actual teachers, instructors and students who could demonstrate success in an OER context to bring consolidation and sustainability to the goals of the open movement. Further, it seemed that little real effort was occurring on the inclusion or promotion of teachers and teaching, and that OpenEd conferences continued to be conversations within an insular community of theorists and advocates – not the stuff of implementation, nor a demonstration of broad impact.

I hope that in 2010-2011 we will see a rise in the generosity of spirit that is promoted in the OER community, through a new focus on the nurturing of successors with implementation, consolidation and sustainability skills. If the best way forward is to give away knowledge for free, then maybe this is a good time to demonstrate a similar approach to marketing an open educational resource future, by identifying and promoting new advocates who are closer to the problem for which OERs are the solution.

Micro broadcasts for quick pro-d

This morning a tweet came up on my TweetDeck window signaling the start of a micro-broadcast from the CNIE 2010 conference in Saint John, NB.

Scroll to 5:45 in the video below to get to the actual starting point.

Grant Potter of UNBC was broadcasting a live panel session using the UStream iPhone app. The panel featured Rory McGreal (Athabasca), Stephen Downes (NRC) and Liz Burge (UNB) talking about issues surrounding the use of open educational resurces (OER).

This was a quick hit of professional development that was both enjoyable and thought provoking. I especially liked Liz’s probes of OER value propositions from a practitioner perspective, and the response it it provoked from Stephen.  Great fun, as well as stimulus for reflection and further consideration.

Two things were notable:

  • The ease with which this sort of micro-broadcast could be done live, with relatively good picture and audio quality
  • The potential that this medium has for quickly engaging a viewer with a high-level presentation or conversation, and for conveying the feeling that you are as much there as the audience was in Saint John

Although I didn’t ask a question, I know that had I tweeted to Grant he would have happily served as a proxy for a question.

Grant’s archive of CNIE 2010 micro-broadcasts is here.

A refuge in the urban core

I work in Vancouver’s downtown business core, an urban environment filled with noisy buses, trucks and cars. And the din is only getting louder. There’s nothing redeeming about the noise, and it exists in stark contrast to the pleasing natural sounds found in the mountains of the North Shore that are within my view, only minutes away across Burrard Inlet.


Luckily, there are a few outdoor urban niches where you can escape the downtown rush and find a sonic refuge. One of these is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – a short walk from my office.

Click the photo above to see my slideshow (14 images) of the Sun Yat-Sen Garden.

I visited the Sun Yat-Sen garden this week on a sunny Monday afternoon. The garden’s surrounding walls and central waterfall feature provide the ideal ambience for muffling the drone and din of the city while you reflect and dream in a tranquil setting.

Inlaid pebble-tile footpaths and bridges connect the garden spaces – cool white rooms filled with pots and bonsai, carved screens and impressive wooden doorways. One outer wall of the garden offers a series of round portals to seating areas and benches that look across a quiet pond to a park beyond.

The garden is my urban refuge.


It’s all over way too soon -

3-2-1, you’re back in the room.

I need an adventure

The anxiety continues unabated.  I want to write a blog post.  I can’t write.  I resort to random tweets to help dissolve the blockage.

Or, I write well constructed emails about professional projects and initiatives, taking time to craft every sentence as if it were a poetic work.


Somewhere within I know the answer.

And, I need an adventure.

Finally – an agile workflow

I’ve been looking, asking colleagues and associates for a straightforward description of an agile workflow for the creation or reuse of open educational resources (OERs). You’d think it would be simple to find. Nope. Not until today.

While searching using “simple, easy, agile” and other adjectives to describe “OER workflow,” I finally got a hit that made sense.


Creative Commons License OER Workflow Diagram by Lisa Rogers – Heriot-Watt University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.5 UK: Scotland License.

The OER workflow diagram by Lisa Rogers, and the explanation of its use is a valuable resource.

Thank you, Lisa.


I love my job

This morning I had the fortunate opportunity to fly from Vancouver to Terrace, BC on a clear and crisp October day. The two-hour flight path between YVR and YXT is up the west coast of the Canadian mainland over the Coast Mountains.

After 30 minutes of flying we were crossing the long fjord-like inlets Toba, Bute and Knight, that carve a path between successive mountain ranges along the coast. Each range features a spectacular drop to the the ocean from its glaciated peaks.

I was thinking that with any kind of luck we might fly right past the highest peak in the BC Coast Range, a rarely visible jagged spire with glaciers flowing in multiple directions from its base.

As Bute Inlet came into view, I could see the Homathko River at its head, and as we flew on, it was becoming increasingly likely that we would follow the river to the glaciers at the base of Mt. Waddington.

Wow — within minutes a steep glacier started climbing up and up from the Homathko River until it reached the base of Waddington, granite fingers with an ice coating, reaching to the sky. Amazing, we were flying at 16,000 ft. just above the Waddington summit of 13,000+ ft.


The near (southeast) side of Waddington holds the enormous Tiedemann Glacier, and beyond this point all the way to Terrace, is an almost unbroken series of ice fields and sharp peaks that define the wilderness of the BC northwest.

In the madness and technical focus of my daily work it is easy to forget the breathtaking natural beauty that exists in this part of world. I’m truly thankful that my job requires me to see it all in my visits to the 25 colleges and universities that make up BC’s public higher education system.


Searching for an agile OER workflow

Following up on my optimal, not ideal posting a while back, I decided to immerse myself in WikiEducator for two weeks to capture the flavor of the community and its practices.


WikiEducator (WE) began its life as the brainchild of New Zealander, Wayne Mackintosh, and grew and flourished while Wayne served as an Education Specialist, eLearning and ICT Policy at Commonwealth of Learning (COL) in Vancouver, Canada.

Recently, Wayne and WE have moved back to New Zealand, and WE is now operated under the auspices of the newly created Open Education Resource (OER) Foundation that was officially launched on 17 September 2009.

WE provides free training for its community members through a series of workshops and seminars conducted online using WE itself, Google Groups, and though live events using the WizIQ web conferencing system. I got a late start, actually 5 days late, but quickly got caught up with assistance from the workshop host Patricia Schlicht and encouragement from other participants.

What makes the WikiEducator training so convivial is its pace and usefulness in guiding novice wikinauts through the core principles of wikitext in a manner that allows them to demonstrate incremental skill acquisition using a graded certification scheme. WE participants can earn designations such as WikiApprentice and WikiBuddy and all the way to WikiMaster – in a simple but effective manner that builds skills and confidence. This approach made it easy for me to catch up five days worth of training in a few hours over the weekend and feel part of the group, a sense of belonging that is a vital link when you try new or hard stuff beyond your normal comfort zone.

I can’t help thinking that my experience with WE to date is certainly not unique. Thousands of others have registered for this training – 14,000 by the most recent count.

And, as part of the training program, WE participants were asked to start a Sandbox activity in their user space. I’ve begun mine with a view to examining an agile workflow for OER development and deployment – not agile from a tech-weenie perspective, but agile from a teaching-human perspective.

The big issue, raised at a live web conference event on September 27/28 (depending on your time zone), using a whiteboard onto which everyone was invited to scribble questions was, “What comes next for WikiEducator– or maybe more importantly, what comes after what comes next?”

In a WizIQ whiteboard question for Wayne Mackintosh last night I also asked what the conceptual map for WikiEducator was, and followed it up with a few other questions.

How will WE work beyond its community authoring roots to service actual use cases of teachers who may be bound to open source or proprietary delivery systems in K-12 or higher education environments?

How do we meet teachers where they are in terms of beliefs, access, tools and experience and provide them with an agile WE OER workflow that allows them to extend themselves without imposing a pain-for-gain threshold that is too high?

Further updates coming…


Optimal, not ideal

So many times in the past, I’ve been drawn in by the elegance of arguments and the ideals put forth by their proponents.

Such is the case with the whole open movement. I love the sentiments, the allure of community and collegiality. It is an ideal that I find compelling and attractive. I just like it. It feels right. The recent OpenEd 2009 conference in Vancouver was an opportunity to celebrate with others who are also drawn to this community and its approach to making knowledge accessible.

It’s clear that across North America, in Europe and in other parts of the world, there is now a growing movement to share educational resources in ways that leverage investment in instructional development many times over for the public good and for the opportunity to build sustainable knowledge communities.

In British Columbia, the organization I manage (BCcampus) has provided leadership in promoting open educational resources (OERs) as a strategy for developing and sharing educational models and instructional resources among our 25 public post-secondary institutions. The Online Program Development Fund (OPDF), established in 2003 by our Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market development has succeeded in demonstrating that institutions and educators can collaboratively develop educational resources and share them with their peers under specified conditions.

Publications and papers authored by BCcampus staff, by industry folks, and by UNESCO document the BCcampus rationale and role in the OER movement within the British Columbia academic domain.

In our case, we offer the choice of a Creative Commons license or own BC Commons license. Not surprisingly (to me), most developers and faculty choose the geographically limited BC Commons approach as a very tentative foray into the world of open. This seems like a realistic first step for many who are unfamiliar with the benefits and/or implications of a more open approach. The resonant value in open is not immediately apparent to everyone. What may seem sub-threshold openness to some, is actually a leap of faith by others.

The diagram below, developed by my colleague Paul Stacey, describes many of the decision points that need addressing in order for various constituencies of users to actually play in the open domain.

OER Decision Points.jpg

What remains for us is an explicit rationale for BC educators and institutions to participate in the OER movement in a more active manner, in a more open and on a more global basis.

For me, what works in a systemic context is an optimal approach to innovation, not an ideal one.

David Wiley’s invitation for readers of his blog to post on the reasons for their approach to openness sparked the notion to write this post.

Show me yours – I’ll show you mine

In a recent comment Scott Leslie asked,

“…clearly there is a long way to go before OER becomes mainstream, and any positive and practical suggestions you had on how to move it that way I’m sure would be appreciated by the community.”

Well here goes.

One of the powerful ways people learn (to teach) is from watching others and emulating their practice – often improving it through further iterations and enhancements. I know I’ve benefited from many wonderful teachers and colleagues in my career, and I’m fairly certain that the core beliefs and principles in my own practice arise from those experiences.

The first really “open course” I saw was a wiki-based approach that David Wiley modeled a few years back. I was still using learning management system models myself and was impressed by David’s approach. Even though I knew lots about keeping content and presentation separate throughout its life-cycle, I’d never seen any achievable examples of how to do that using lightweight tools completely under my control as an instructor.

At the same time, John Maxwell at Simon Fraser University, a former student, and more recently a mentor to me, was experimenting with wiki-based course environments for his SFU Publishing Program students.

Since then, I’ve seen other fine examples of open instructional practice from Alec Couros and from the team of Stephen Downes and George Siemens.

Couros – Social media and open education

Maxwell – Thinkubator

Siemens and Downes – Connectivisim

Most recently, my co-teaching colleague David Vogt and I have taken our UBC Master of Educational Technology (MET) course Ventures in Learning Technology into the open blogosphere using a Word Press MU (multi-user) environment. Previously, we’d explored various environments for hosting and engaging with students in this course, everything from WebCT Vista to Crowdtrust – an experimental social networking technology.

Without benefit of access to the models noted above we would have nothing obvious against which to compare our UBC MET experiences. And, I’m sure other folks are looking for models and examples for comparison and exploration, too. It think it would be a great service to see a catalog of examples of open-type course models that we could all explore and borrow from to suit our own instructional needs.


We’ve presented on our UBC course model, talked about why, what and how we do what we do in our course, and have reported on the experiences of our students. Recent presentation slides from the Canadian e-Learning Conference 2009 can be found here:

Breaking Out of the CMS: Civilizing the Open Internet Frontier for Learning

So, in answer to Scott’s question, I believe the simplest approach is best. Contribute examples of practice, be prepared to answer questions and critique about them. I think this could be an accessible starting point for many instructors wanting to go in the open direction.

We also need to bear in mind that what we’re talking about here should be close to the principles that Brian Lamb put forth in his post, Are you open enough?


Bringing systemic shape to open initiatives

This morning’s kickoff presentation by Fred Mulder from the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) was memorable, not for a gee-whiz social media show on openness, but for a quiet, pragmatic approach to demonstrating how to begin the institutionalization of open thinking. (The video stream of Fred’s prezo below follows remarks by Chris Lott and Dave Cormier about other conference stuff).

The Mulder presentation conveyed a sober view of what it actually takes to move open education and OER models forward in the context of academic, institutional and political structures that are specific to individual jurisdictions. Fred’s examples were attuned to the reality of the Netherlands, but much of his approach is likely generalizable in other western contexts.

My take-aways:

  • Have a systemic strategy (make it explicit)
  • Use a strategy than spans K-Life (K-12, post-secondary and beyond)
  • Market the strategy effectively (to colleagues, to funders, to politicians)
  • Draw upon supporting strategies from other contexts (The Netherlands pointed to India’s strategy)
  • Pick an ideal license model for OERs (even if you’ve previously chosen something less than ideal)
  • Seek adequate funding
  • Use open textbooks as an easy entry point to providing open resources systemically
  • Understand that a mix of open and proprietary may be a reality you will face
  • Ensure that training and research are the complementary bookends of the implementation process


A lesson on resonant value

I really enjoyed Alan Levine’s Amazing Stories of Openness at the OpenEd2009 conference on August 12. It was a paradigm buster of a prezo, using the words of others to underscore the resonant value in openness.


Using video stories collected from Net colleagues and friends, the prezo showed a way forward for marketing the goodliness of open without having to say anything else.



Best before date fast approaching

Feels like the theory, innovation and advocacy phase of the open educational resource (OER) movement is fast approaching its “best before date.”

Watched the screencast this morning of the Wiley Downes Dialogue from OpenEd09. Couldn’t help thinking phase change when the discussion crisscrossed terrain that has been traveled many times before at various conferences, forums and meetings since about 2000.   “It’s deja vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra said when describing repeated back-to-back home runs by Mantle and Maris in the early 60s. But it was more like veja du for me – I know I’ve been a party to these conversations countless times before. The discussions/arguments continue to hover around definitions, clarifications of terms, and wishful thinking about an education system that is what it is.

Some tweets on the subject (unattributed):

  • …how many angels can dance on the head of a Creative Commons license? hoping Downes/Wiley move on to more fertile ground
  • Let’s move it along Stephen and David… and, we wonder why the OER movement hasn’t really taken off…
  • Didn’t expect Stephen and David to spend so much time arguing about what the definitive Zeppelin album is. And really… PRESENCE?

Now the above tweets have been selectively chosen to help me make my point. There are other tweets that reveal that many participants were drawn into the arguments to some degree. See here for more –> #opened09. And that’s a pity.

Unfortunately for the OER innovators and early adopters, what needs to happen to move the OER approach ahead is a lot more focus on the how, rather than on the what and why parts of the argument. A phase change really needs to take shape – one that involves actual practitioners, people who teach courses, normal humans, real instructors. A quick peek into the wiki list of participants at the OpenEd09 reveals a usual-suspects array of characters, devoid of the instructor base at which this innovation is aimed and pitched. This is not the stuff of change, of implementation, of mainstreaming.

To move this innovation ahead will require another skill set, better (more authentic) marketers – and a phase change.


Funny thing about teachers …

… they’re all different.

I’ve read two separate articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the last two weeks, each highlighting instructor discomfort with technology tools in higher education classrooms.

One focused on the perils of desktop slideware. The other on the notion of parking techno-tools in favor of a social fasting approach.

The articles are commentary on the proliferation of slideware in post-secondary classrooms, as well as the perceived headlong rush towards amusing themselves to death that has been associated with NetGen students. Together these two rubs provide a sort of yin::yang relationship.

On the one hand it is easy to agree with students that it may be reasonable choice to focus on an engaging small screen experience when faced with a mind-numbing onslaught of 12-point type on the classroom big screen. Comments toThe Chronicle blog about “When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom,” underscore the sentiment that is it not the technology that is bad, but the way it is so often used – seems like common sense to me.

However, the proponent of the article pushed the notion of “going naked” into the classroom a little further, emphasizing a greater need for engagement through thoughtful dialogue of the sort that occurs in small classes like those in graduate school or smaller colleges. But, the rub occurs when an instructor finds herself in front of a large-scale class of 100+ undergraduate students all sporting laptops and various mobile devices. I’ve faced this situation myself occasionally as a guest speaker. I literally scoped out one of the classes, an inter-disciplinary group of engineers, computer science and business students, a week in advance of my appearance, to try to better understand the classroom dynamic and to plan how I would engage their brains and devices simultaneously. I knew it was going to be a challenge.

Teaching remains a performance sport. What I’ve learned from my limited large-scale engagements is that like a good stand-up act, I’d need a set of “routines” (instructional strategies) around which I could structure large-scale classes, the course material and my interactions both verbal and digital with the learners. And, I’d likely need to work on the routines as ongoing projects to keep them fresh to ensure that actual learning or teachable moments were to occur in those lecture-style classes. I don’t know how others are coping, but I’d love to know. It’s not surprising to me that slideware becomes a default approach in an attempt to bring both structure and focus to classroom experiences. What is sorely needed is an updated pedagogy and new models of practice that would enable engagement of both brains and devices in various teaching situations, without backtracking to the “naked” approach.

The flip side of the story, the yang to the previously discussed yin, is the notion of social fasting that was put forward in The Chronicle article, “Professor Challenges Students to Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In.” In this scenario, the professor challenged students to come to his classes without benefit of social media devices and in fact by dropping other forms of media (movies, TV, video games) while they take his course. His exchange for their “fast” is an additional 5 percent in their overall grade.  Hmm.  Surely, the horse is out of that barn.