OER13, Mexico, OER and plagiarism

It’s a few days now since I attended OER13 in Nottingham. The OERRHub team was out in force as we ran a daylong workshop to raise awareness of the project and invite fellow conference attendees to play a game of OERchery (which in itself merits a separate post soon to appear on a screen near you).

I also had an electronic poster presentation running on loop in the lobby telling unsuspecting audiences about the SCORE Microsites dissemination project. Excluding chairing duties, the rest of the time I was free to roam to my heart’s content, and so it is that I sat at Terence Karran’s talk on OER in Mexico; not on a whim, mind you, but in pursue of a hot lead. Let me go back to my poster presentation… During 2012 I worked on a project aimed at creating two portals of open educational resources around the topic of research skills and digital scholarship: ready-to-research contains nearly 200 hours of self-study materials for international students planning on coming to the UK to do a postgraduate degree, while its sister site digital-scholarship helps UK undergraduates hone their skills as digital scholars. Last December the project received further funding from the HEA towards the dissemination of the sites in China and Mexico, two nations that export large number of students to UK shores. The Mexican Embassy in London took a real interest in adopting ready-to-research and invited me to give a talk to a small group of students who travelled to the capital at short notice. On a cold afternoon I found myself sipping Colombian coffee and talking about OER and openness in education, as I demonstrated how to navigate the site and chatted about the challenges of studying abroad and in a language other than your own. When someone mentioned plagiarism, I didn’t think any of it. As terrible a sin as it may be, it is also a typical concern for students, anywhere.

And thus we tighten the Mexican connection. Having done a bit of research on the extent of OER use in the country and learned about efforts like temoa, Tecnológico de Monterrey’s portal of OER, I was keen on listening to the experts: Terence Karran’s presentation at OER13 focused on Mexico as a developing nation where recession has had less of an impact than in Spain, for instance; where it’s all about coming out of the shadow of the US to align the country with Venezuela and Brazil; where fighting drug barons has so far taken precedence over education; where internet use for learning is very low, pedagogy old fashioned, and universities extremely protective of their materials. ‘Copyright infringement in Mexico is endemic’ Terence says. Does sharing make sense when everyone copies? Do OER make sense when the norm is that you take what you need and attribution runs diluted?

It was then that I remembered the plagiarism conversation at the Mexican Embassy: ‘Why do I need to quote a source when it is obvious that I didn’t write it?’ asked a girl at loggerheads with her supervisor. Old habits (and culture) die hard.

To end on a happy note, since the OER band was out of action, entertainment during the gala dinner became a bout of crosswords in-between courses and a race to come up with the most creative OER comic (a gigantic Easter egg as bait!). Here is our table’s effort; we didn’t win but were told it was a close affair!


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