Author Archives: bdelosarcos

What happened when we put 14 PhD researchers inside an IKEA hotel

This post was first published on GO-GN’s website on May 16th, 2018.

After Cape Town in 2013 and 2017, Ljubljana and Washington in 2014, Banff in 2015 and Kraków in 2016, in April 2018 fourteen GO-GN researchers, the OERHub team and a handful of GO-GN family members gathered in The Netherlands for the 7th GO-GN Seminar. This is the story of two days (in an IKEA hotel) in Delft.

Sorry, wrong tweet, let’s start again. Once upon a time on a hot day in Delft a bunch of lovely people from Canada, the US, Ireland, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Israel, The Netherlands, France, UK, Brazil and Australia got together to talk about PhD research into open education…

Day 1 started with a quick look at where we are at; correction: it’s now 60 PhD researchers and 15 alumni.

After introductions, two of our alumnae took the floor (and the walls) to help their colleagues navigate common challenges…

We gave them cake, enthused by the overwhelming evidence put forward by rigorous research on the impact of sugar consumption on brain power…

And it worked! Oh dear me, those presentations! Jenni breezed through the difficult task of making sense of open education

Judith is the go-to person for research on (O)ER use in African HE

In Brazil teachers in K12 have been well looked after by Viviane (and she’s got guidelines!)…

Natascha’s research on open textbooks is a breath of fresh air (jeez, move on from cost savings and impact on scores, guys!)…

Virginia is a force of nature when it comes to fighting on the #opened frontline in Latin America…

And to cap the day, two encounters with MOOC research of the first kind: Dilrukshi’s on increasing the effectiveness of MOOCs

And Eyal’s on predicting learner-centred outcomes

Did we still have time for some VConnecting fun? You bet!

At the end of the day I worried we had given them too much cake stuff to think about…

Point taken: cut the sugar, provide them with notebooks. And so it was that Day 2 dawned with Marjon ready to lego-spice Dutch teachers’ adoption of OER

Verena was brave to bring the group outside the safe confines of our IKEA hotel; she’s all about expanding learning environments you know?…

Nothing can go wrong with a linguist in the room. Give me an R! Give me an E! Give me an U! Give me an S! Give me and E! ReeeeeeUSE! That’s what Hélène explores with language teachers

Oh Adrian, how could you bring in a platypus and not expect some controversy? Indeed we must understand open practice as a continuum

Helen is still looking for hOERself in this mad mad world of academia (and when she shares her slides I’ll add a link)…

Leo worries deeply about how open is open. No, really, how open is it? …

And one awesome Aussie Penny explained how STEM teachers experience professional learning through open education (and when she shares her slides I’ll add a link)…

Then I got them to ditch abstract and think open in action. (Note: GO-GNers struggle counting words, specially up to one)…

And that was very much it. In the evening of Day 2 we headed to Bierfabriek (no, of course it’s not a drinking hole, what do you think we are?) to celebrate awards-winning, friends-hugging and cheese balls…

And shared some tuko pamoja love with Fred Mulder, founding father of GO-GN. In fact, speaking of love, I think next year we need to introduce a more explicit element of torture…

OK folks, that’s a wrap. Do a search for the #GO_GN hashtag on Twitter to see what happened when we let these fabulous #opened researchers loose in #OEGlobal18. Thank you all! Here’s the photo for the family album…

Oh wait, I nearly forgot. We got an award 🙂

Now, that’s a proper wrap!


Adopting Open Textbooks in the UK

This post was first shared via the Open Education Working Group blog.

In March of 2017 the Open Education Research (OER) Hub received a small grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to assess whether current US models of open textbook adoption would translate to the UK HE context. In a short space of time we put together under the UK Open Textbook Project a team of interested parties, which included David Kernohan and Viv Rolfe this side of the Atlantic, and David Ernst (Open Textbook Network) and OpenStax on American soil.

The cost of textbooks in the US is massive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that textbook prices have increased by 88% in the past ten years. The average student enrolling in the 2015-16 academic year had to budget between $1230 and $1390 for textbooks and course materials. To put this in context, a loaf of bread is $2.50 and a pint of milk, 40 cents. That’s over 3000 pints of milk and nearly 500 loaves of bread that you’d need to go without in order to purchase your textbooks (and we all know in bad weather what’s the first thing that goes from supermarket shelves). Seriously though, academic performance is also taking a hit: Student PIRGS says that two thirds of students don’t buy a required textbook because they are too expensive, with cost having a negative impact on which and how many courses they register for. Can you imagine how you would cope in your course without the textbook? Research tells us that earning a poor grade, failing or dropping out would not come as a surprise.

The Open Textbook Library defines open textbooks as “textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed. These books can be downloaded for no cost, or printed at low cost”. Because they serve to offset the cost of traditional textbooks, open textbooks have a reason to exist, and the fact that $5 million have been put aside by Congress to fund an open textbook grant program demonstrates that in the US the issue is treated with grave concern. However, is cost a valid argument to adopt open textbooks in the UK? In a recent report on the financial position of students in higher education in England, commissioned by the Department for Education we learn that:

“Compared with the cost of tuition fees, expenditure on direct course costs made up a smaller proportion of full-time students’ participation costs – they spent on average £512 (six per cent of total participation costs) on these items in the 2014/15 academic year. Fulltime students spent the most on computers (£253), followed by printing, photocopying and stationery (£105), then books (£101) and other equipment (£31).” (p. 279)

£101 does not sound like a lot of money, does it? Students in England are delivered a brutal blow by having to pay fees of £9000 a year, not by the amount of money spent on textbooks. It is true that we don’t want to add to their woes and anything we can save them comes as a bonus. What I’d like to highlight here is that if open textbooks are to be adopted in the UK, we need to look beyond cost and sing out loud what we (teachers and students) can do with an open textbook that we can’t do with a traditional textbook. My emphasis in the above definition has to be on “licensed to be freely used, adapted and distributed”.

As part of the work carried out by the UK Open Textbooks Project, the team ran a total of fourteen workshops in eight HE institutions in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. The aim of these was to raise awareness of open textbooks and to invite participants to review an open textbook from the Open Textbook Library. As it happened, I facilitated workshops in Glasgow Caledonian University, where registration fees are zero pounds, and NUIGalway, where students pay a ‘contribution’ of €3000 per year. Neither of these universities would see cost as the only swinging logic to use an open textbook in the classroom, but both could reasonably buy into the idea of an open textbook as a living creature that can be adapted ad libitum. An open textbook is more than free; it is free with permissions; permission to reorder chapters, localise examples, translate into any language, add content to, delete paragraphs, link to external sources, and more. More. More. Think about it. Ask your students to think about it.

If you do and you’d like our support, get in touch: @UKOpenTextbooks.

Open textbooks, open pedagogy

I’m in Dublin today and tomorrow to participate in #CESIcon, the annual conference of the Computers in Education Society of Ireland. It looks like rain, but definitely no snow! Here are the slides for my talk. I’ll come back to jot down a few thoughts during the week.

Call for papers – Special collection: Open Education in Latin America



As we prepared to get the IV Workshop Recursos Educativos Abiertos (WREA) off the ground, my co-chairs and myself discussed the possibility of also co-editing a special collection of papers in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education with a focus on open education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Here it is. Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena.

JIME Latin American Special Collection CfP

Last April representatives from 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in São Paulo to discuss the recommendations that would be put forward to the 2nd World OER Congress in relation to mainstreaming OER to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal on Quality Education. During the discussions that preceded these recommendations, it was noted that countries in Latin America are still in the early stages of adopting OER. This delayed uptake was firstly attributed to the lack of visibility of existing open education initiatives in the region. In this Special Collection the co-editors seek to highlight issues and challenges emerging from the effective implementation of OER policies, initiatives and projects in Latin America; and showcase research on the process of adoption and impact of the use of OER in educational settings in the region.

We invite contributions to JIME, for a special collection issue on open education in Latin America. Submissions to JIME should have a clear educational focus or application, and should illuminate the special contribution that digital media can make to learners’ knowledge, understanding or skill. Submissions are expected to advance knowledge in the field in some way, by developing theory, or critiquing existing work, or providing an analysis or framework for understanding empirical findings.

Different kinds of submissions will be judged by different criteria. Ideally, we are looking for integrated submissions that present the theoretical basis for a technology, its design process and implementation, its evaluation, and theoretical implications. However, one or more of these aspects may form the basis for a submission.

For this issue on Open Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, themes include but are not limited to:

  • Financing models for the effective implementation of OER policies and practices
  • Strategies for the adoption and sustainability of OER
  • Challenges for mainstreaming OER/OEP
  • Innovative technologies that promote and sustain OER/OEP
  • Overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers
  • Open pedagogy and approaches to teaching and learning based on openness.

Contributors should take account of JIME’s guidelines for submissions.

    • March 17th 2018: manuscripts due
    • Summer 2018: issue published

The co-editors will be:
Tel Amiel, Universidade de Campinas, Brazil
Beatriz de los Arcos, The Open University, UK
Ismar Frango, Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, Brazil and
Virginia Rodés, Universidad de la República, Uruguay.

Featured image: Educación pública, B. de los Arcos CC BY-NC 2.0

Open textbooks at NUI, Galway


Photo by Eileen Walsh, @EileenWalsh101

Over a week ago I facilitated a workshop entitled ‘Open Textbooks: Access, Affordability and Academic Success’ at the university in Galway. This is not my original work but adapted from a presentation that David Ernst gives as director of the Open Textbook Network. The reason is that we (the OER Hub team, David and other colleagues) are working on a small research grant from the Hewlett Foundation to evaluate how easily current US models of textbook adoption translate to UK higher education. The project is UK-based but hints at a wider European remit; since my European heart is closer to Ireland than any other country, it seemed to me perfectly fit to start my open textbook tour in my adopted home. I’m grateful to Sharon Flynn for kindly letting me take over her open practices session, and to her #CEL263 class for putting up with three whole hours of me talking open textbooks. #CEL263 is one of the modules contributing to NUIG’s Postgraduate Diploma in Academic Practice, a course I would like to take myself, without any qualms about giving up my Friday evenings.

But I digress. Let me give you a brief run through the slides:

Education is a human right. As such, higher education should be equally accessible to all. While one might be inclined to think that this is an issue affecting primarily developing nations, truth is, it’s right on our doorstep, yours and mine. We hope education will be the demise of social inequality, yet too often how education is structured serves to reinforce social inequality.

The bulk of the argument rests on data around cost: government funding of HE going down, tuition fees on the increase, blood-chilling drop out rates, and large student debt on graduation day. I actually thought that this wouldn’t run true in Ireland. Alas, I didn’t have to dig too deep to find that I was wrong.

The cost of having a degree in Ireland is phenomenal. Yes, students probably drink too much, and should use a bus éireann more often, and live at home longer (ahem). What can we do, realistically? Textbooks are expensive. Research tells us that this has caused students to not purchase the required textbook, take fewer courses, not register for a specific course, earn a poor grade, drop a course and even fail a course. We are not taking only about impact on student finances, but impact on students’ academic performance.

Could textbooks be free? Not if we follow a traditional publishing business model. A publisher produces a textbook, recoups investment in sales, and pays royalties to the author; copyright protects against, for example, one student buying a text and photocopying it for everyone else. There are other models, though: a funder pays the publisher to produce a book with the condition to make it available free of cost forever. This textbook is still copyrighted, how can the end-user be aware of the funder’s intent for the textbook to be shared freely? Enter Creative Commons licences.

Open textbooks are textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed“. David Ernst started The Open Textbook Library to make it easy to find open textbooks. The rest of the slides in the workshop quickly introduce research covering how students and educators perceive the quality of open textbooks (as OER), and their efficacy. There are also a few examples of how open textbooks have been adopted and adapted, and finally an invitation to browse the library and write a review.

Questions and comments on the day:

Does creating an open textbook count towards my academic profile?’ ‘Do students really care about their learning?’. Plus, what I’m gonna call the usual Irish banter, ‘Do they not have photocopying machines in the US?’

If you read only one piece as a follow up to this post, make it Stephen Downe’s ‘If we talked about the internet like we talk about OER‘.

Learning with MOOCs for professional development



Since the beginning of this year I’ve been working on the EU-funded bizMOOC Project, a consortium of HEIs and Industry partners from eleven European countries “to enable a European-wide exploitation of the potential of MOOCs for the world of business”.

So far I’ve been mostly involved in delivering the outcomes of WP3: three pilot MOOCs focusing on life-long learning and key business competences, namely learning to learn, sense of initiative (entre-/intrapreneurship), and innovation and creativity. In truth, I am not working on three MOOCs but developing one in collaboration with DIDA (Italy) and The National Unions of Students in Europe (Belgium), and overseeing the production of the other two, led by colleagues in Germany and Spain.

What kick started things for me was our project meeting in Cardiff last February, where partners participated in a workshop aimed at guiding us through the discussion of the whos, whats and hows that would shape the design of each MOOC –what type of MOOC?, who is it for?, what are the learning objectives?, how do we get there? and so forth. If you are interested in learning design, Beck Pitt has put together the slides and audio recorded during the event to create a ‘How to produce a MOOC?’ video that explains these questions better than I can here.

In terms of content, it was decided earlier on that our L2L MOOC would reuse as much material already available as possible. OpenLearn holds very good courses on the topic under a CC license that allows adaptation. In Cardiff we also sat down to quickly review these and decide which sections we could borrow, and what gaps needed to be filled in. After that, my job was to go away and assemble a first draft on OpenLearn Create (OLC), the OU’s free educational platform for anyone to publish open content. OLC is Moodle-based and fairly easy to use, although I must confess it can be frustrating too: the editing menu is limited, which means that you’d better know some html or pull your hair in desperation.

As I write, ‘Learning to learn with MOOCs for professional development’ is sitting with all project partners for final review. It is a free course that lasts four weeks with approximately three hours of study time per week. In fairness though, you could run very quickly through some of the sections and concentrate on what interests you most.

Week 1 starts with some snippets of stories from learners who have had different experiences of learning online, and serve as an introduction the importance of reflection in learning. Week 2 is all about MOOCs: what is a MOOC, what are the advantages of taking a MOOC, where do you find MOOCs, how do you assess their quality, etc. In talking about the skills that you need to be successful in a MOOC, you really are talking about the skills needed by the workforce to run effectively in the digital world, so that’s why week three and week four look into this: your online identity, your digital footprint, dealing with fake news and information overload, media to collaborate online, and more.

Overall ‘Learning to learn with MOOCs…’ is quite a reflective course. We didn’t make it too interactive on purpose; one, because we knew we wouldn’t have the capacity to moderate the forums for ever (the course will not be taken down after the initial four weeks); and two, I think you can’t force anyone to take part if you are not there yourself to make it happen or to encourage participants. Having said that, the set up at the moment is for learners to receive a free statement of participation upon completion, if they read all sections (actually, a click on each screen will do) and post a message in the crowdsourcing forum of week 2. I may change this before we go to launch, but it will be interesting to see whether people take the bait: if you want your piece of paper, you’ll have to contribute and work for it, ha!

The course is already available here. For now it is protected by a password and not open for enrolment, but bookmark the link: we’ll be ready to go on October 16th.

Featured image: Say MOOC by Audrey Watters, CC BY-SA 2.0

From Ireland to the UK (and back): my open story

Featured image: Walton Hall by B. de los Arcos, CC BY-NC

Yesterday I took part in an online hangout organised by the team behind #101openstories, hosted by the wonderful Jenni Hayman. The initiative started a few months back when six fabulous women, all members of GO-GN, got together to invite the rest of us to tell our open stories. I’m sticking the recording at the end of this post, but to save Jenni the awful task of having to transcribe what was said, here is how it all started for me. In fairness, I’m also keeping a promise I made on Twitter, although I should have used my own account, not GO-GN’s. I got mixed up!

If I’m gonna tell this story properly, I have to go back to the year 2000 when I started teaching with the Open University. My background is in languages and at the time I was teaching Spanish at University College Galway (which then became NUI Galway). The OU, however, was distance education and a whole new adventure that got really exciting when from 2003, I think, we went fully online –I no longer met my students face-to-face but spoke to them once a month using a synchronous audiographic conferencing system developed in-house called Lyceum. It was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. (Remember Mattie the cat, Fernando?). By then I had moved from Galway to Dublin and was studying part-time for an MSc in IT in Education at Trinity College. It was my first excursion into doing research. See, teaching online posed new challenges: how different would I be as an online tutor? How would not having eye contact with my students affect the way I taught? The minor dissertation I wrote was then published as a chapter in a book available to purchase for £130.75 on Amazon. (I’m not even giving you the link). I didn’t know about open then.

Dublin didn’t quite work for a bunch of reasons, but upon returning to Galway and another semester of ‘traditional’ teaching, I wasn’t happy. I felt stuck. After getting a taste for doing research, I wanted more. I applied for a grant to do a PhD at the OU and got it. Hooray! That was probably the most significant moment of my career. It meant leaving Ireland though, for Milton Keynes, the town of roundabouts (I don’t know why they mention cows, I haven’t seen any). The horror! Don’t worry, I said to L, we’ll be back as soon as I graduate. Famous last words. Cue in financial meltdown, our Celtic Tiger caught having a nap. It would take us the best part of eleven years to return to Irish shores (I completed my PhD in 2009) and even now, I can’t say I’m properly back.

But let’s get on with the story. While PhD-ing, I was allowed to continue tutoring OU students; after all, they were the subjects of my research. One day, somebody asked: how would you like to share your teaching materials? The Department of Languages had just launched LORO, a repository of resources for language teachers, an online space that could be accessed by everyone. Here is the thing: if you were teaching beginners’ Spanish, for example, the OU would send you a CD containing materials that you could use in your online class, either as is or customised as you pleased. I had done a lot of that: had a look at what we were given, maybe used a resource without any changes once or twice, then adapted it according to what I thought had worked or not for my students; I had reused OU materials to build my own versions of screens and exercises. But I had no idea what the materials for the intermediate or advanced Spanish classes were, and even less of a clue what my colleagues teaching Chinese, Welsh, German or French were doing with their beginners. With LORO, that problem was instantly solved.

Soon I moved from being a user of the repository to helping others use the repository. It was also when I first learnt of Creative Commons licences. PhD under my belt, my next job was with the HEFCE-funded Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE), where my role was supporting anyone and everyone who was interested in using the OU’s Labspace (today OpenLearn Create) to set up an open course, for instance. I’m afraid at the time I didn’t think of it as the momentous event it probably was, but I was there when David Wiley himself shared with SCORE fellows his now lauded thoughts around the letter R.

Then came OT12, a MOOC on Open Translation tools and practices, and the SCORE Microsites, two collections of OER: one on research skills for international students thinking of doing their PhD in the UK; the other, for digital scholars.

At the end of 2012 I was appointed as one of the researchers with the Hewlett-funded OER Research Hub project, now Open Education Research Hub, and that was it, I haven’t looked back since. This post would get too long if I went into all that happened to us OERHubbers so maybe another time. Suffice it to say that there was ExplOERer and OEPS, and there is GO-GN (pride of place), bizMOOC and UK Open Textbooks. I’m not officially teaching any more; it wasn’t my own choice but because OU student numbers in the Republic of Ireland went downhill at such a speedy pace, that I was invited to volunteer for redundancy. (Blame, among other, the rise in fees and the demise of the ‘single module’ learner). But I’m still an educator, in a funny way, and I’d like to think that I’m still helping others think about open.

Here is the #101openstories recording from July 24th, 2017, with Anne Algers, Martin Weller and myself.