Author Archives: bdelosarcos

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.


Two and a half days in Cape Town

As part of the work I do for the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN), last March I travelled to Cape Town with the OERHub crew and a great bunch of PhD researchers from around the world. This is the storify of those two and a half days in the South African capital.


OER in schools

Despite great initiatives like the DigiLit Leicester project on these shores and K12 OER Collaborative in the US, OER folks’ attention does not focus often enough on the K-12/school scene. TJ Bliss writes “If we want OER to become the default, we need people to use OER and to know that they are using OER. In my experience, lack of OER awareness runs mostly unopposed among schoolteachers, who more than anyone should be supported in championing open education.

If you do a quick search for studies of OER use in schools, the return is only a handful of publications and reports. Our open-access paper to come out hopefully in the next few months will help fill this gap. In the meantime, the infographic below presents a frequencies analysis of data collected from surveys conducted by the OERRH until December 2014, in total a sample of 657 K-12/school educators across the globe. Open Education week is nearly over and we are seeing it out with a bang!

Download pdf here.

Data on the use of OER by school educators