Tag Archives: research

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.


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

Infografía: Recursos Educativos Abiertos en la clase al revés

Desde principios del 2013 he estado trabajando en el Proyecto OER Research Hub. Con financiación de la Fundación Hewlett en EEUU estamos investigando el impacto del uso de recursos educativos abiertos (Open Educational Resources, en inglés) en la enseñanza y el aprendizaje, partiendo de once hipótesis que debemos aceptar o rebatir. El proyecto abarca un amplio abanico dentro del sector educativo, desde la educación primaria y secundaria hasta la superior, e incluso el aprendizaje informal.

Una de nuestras colaboraciones es con la Asociación de Profesores de la Clase al Revés, traducción mía y muy libre de Flipped Learning Network, que aspira a ofrecer apoyo a cualquier docente que esté interesado en darle la vuelta a la clase. Si no estáis muy puestos en este arte, echadle un ojo a mi blog de hace unos meses. En septiembre tuvimos la suerte de contar con Kari Arfstrom, directora de la asociación, en Milton Keynes, residencia oficial de la Open University. Como parte del programa de investigación al que dedicó su tiempo mientras estuvo con nosotros, trabajamos juntas en el borrador de la infografía que aparece abajo. La infografía describe algunos de los resultados de una encuesta en línea a profesores de la clase al revés  en la que les preguntamos acerca de su uso de recursos educativos abiertos (REA). La encuesta estuvo abierta durante cinco semanas entre abril y mayo de este año, tiempo suficiente para recoger datos y presentarlos en el congreso FlipCon13 que tuvo lugar en Minnesota en junio. El número total de respuestas obtenidas fue de 285, pero una vez que filtramos a los profesores que no están practicando la clase al revés ahora, los que no son de primaria o secundaria (o K12 en el sistema educativo norteamericano), los que trabajan fuera de los EEUU y los que no usan recursos educativos abiertos, nos quedamos con una muestra de 109 profesores, realmente el grupo objeto de nuestro estudio.

La definición de recursos educativos abiertos (REA) que cito en la introducción al cuestionario está tomada de la página web sobre REA de la Fundación Hewlett: “REA son recursos para la enseñanza, el aprendizaje o la investigación que residen en el dominio público o han sido publicados con una licencia de propiedad intelectual que permite que otros los utilicen y reutilicen libremente”.

Mi intención es publicar los resultados completos de la encuesta antes de finales de año, probablemente en un estilo más académico, aunque me temo que una versión en español tardará un poco más en salir. Si estáis interesados en hablar sobre educación abierta en el contexto de la clase al revés, apuntaros al grupo OpenEducation dentro de la comunidad de profesores FLN (en inglés). Además, el 8 de enero habrá un webinario para charlar de estos temas en el que cualquier persona puede participar. Ojo, también en inglés. Más información aquí.

Y finalmente las gracias más gordas a todo aquel que tuvo la paciencia de responder al cuestionario; a Kari Arfstrom, entre otras muchas cosas por ayudarme a ver los resultados desde la perspectiva de los profes al revés; y a mi hermana, Celia de los Arcos, que en realidad fue quien  entendió a la perfección lo que necesitábamos, y diseñó y creó una infografía que ha quedado mucho más bonita de lo que podíamos imaginar.

La versión en inglés de este blog y la infografía aquí.

Beatus ille

Photo by alles banane CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Photo by alles banane CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A quick Google-search on the benefits of OER for students will easily deliver a number of hits calling upon, for instance, their power to encourage more independent and flexible learning opportunities, and to facilitate exploration of materials ahead of enrolment, allowing learners to choose more wisely and also be better prepared. The JISC OER infoKit adds, amongst other, freedom of access and the international dimension that comes from being able to apply knowledge beyond the confines of one course. One would think that OER use comes as a ray of sunshine, but to what extent do OER increase student satisfaction?

As it is often the case, our research to date derives mostly from asking teachers about their beliefs on the impact of OER use on the students’ learning experience rather than asking learners themselves.  Even then, we have found that educators and learners don’t agree with each other: while the former are generally convinced of the goodness of OER, the latter are less solidly inclined to declare themselves entirely satisfied with open practices.

On the impact of OER on student satisfaction, data extracted from surveys conducted with two of our collaborations (OpenLearn and the Flipped Learning Network) make apparent this discrepancy. For example, 63% of educators using OpenLearn (n=31) agreed that open educational resources improve student satisfaction, an opinion shared by 85% of K12 teachers engaged in flipped learning (n=75). However, just 47% (n=54) of formal learners indicated that their satisfaction with the learning experience was boosted by their use of OpenLearn resources.

When we talk about OER in relation to student performance, the story repeats itself. If we consider improved performance in terms of an increase in grades, only 14% (n=16) of surveyed students indicated that they had achieved higher marks as a result of using OpenLearn. Educators, on the other hand, took a more optimistic stance: 44% (n=21) agreed that using OpenLearn leads to greater student grades, and 63% of K12 teachers (n=55) agreed that using free online resources in the flipped classroom contributes to higher test scores.

Our surveys also included questions to canvass non-grade related aspects of performance such as students’ participation in class discussions, their involvement with lesson content, etc. The results paint a similar picture of dissent, as the chart below shows.

Impact of OER use on non-grade related aspects

Impact of OER use on non-grade related aspects

Perhaps stronger evidence on the impact of OER use on student performance and satisfaction comes from those research studies that have been able to implement comparison points. According to the Bridge to Success Final Report, pass rates (A-C grades) from students taking the Succeed with Math (SWiM) course increased from 50.6% to 68.6%. To validate this data, the pass rates of a similar sample of students taking English or Reading (ENG/RDG) coded courses were also collected. In this case there was little difference in test scores between concurrent (69.5%) and following (70.3%) cohorts, suggesting that it is reasonable to consider students’ involvement in the SWiM course as contributing to their improved performance in the subject.

The Math Department at Byron High School in Minnesota tells another happy story. Pushed by financial constraints, math teachers committed to creating a textbook-free curriculum by 2010, as they adopted the flipped classroom model: a Moodle course served as spine for each classroom, where teachers embedded YouTube videos for students to watch as homework. Students not only welcomed the lighter weight in their backpacks, but also gave the approach the thumbs-up when it came to exam time: Math mastery danced from 29.9 % in 2006 to 73.8 % in 2011, and ACT scores from an average of 21.2 (on a scale of 36) in 2006 to 24.5 in 2011 (Fulton, 2012). One caveat needs to be raised, in my opinion: that teachers’ involvement in using flipped learning techniques is as likely to account for maximising learning as their use of OER. To throw a spanner in the works, further evidence on the substitution of traditional textbooks by open textbooks in the K12 science classroom does not corroborate an increase in students’ test scores (Wiley et al., 2013).

Although more research is needed to strengthen these findings, on the subject of open textbooks the achievements of OpenStax give resounding support to the link between OER and satisfaction: at the end of June 2013, OpenStax textbooks had been downloaded over 120K times, just over 17 million unique visitors had accessed the materials and 200 institutions decided to “formally adopt” OpenStax materials: over $3 million savings for students (OpenStax July Newsletter).

In the words of Horace, beatus ille qui exercet OER.

Flipped or flipped open?

Claire Walker and I were scheduled to present at FlipCon13 last Wednesday, June 18th. Sadly, we never made it, as this silly Spaniard single-handedly decided it would be better fun to visit the local hospital, and not exactly to research their use of OER, mind you (I reckon they pretty much close what they open). All is good, don’t fret, but since we managed to disappoint our expectant audience, here come a few thoughts that will also help me keep up with the flurry of blog posts coming from my colleagues.

Our presentation was meant to highlight some of the findings from the initial analysis of the survey we ran in collaboration with the Flipped Learning Network to find out about K12 teachers’ use of free online resources in the context of the flipped classroom. Before I go ahead, have a look at this video featuring Aaron Sams, one of the pioneers of flipped learning, explaining what it is all about.

To put it simply, the average profile of our survey respondent is a Math/Science teacher in K9-12 grades, with over ten years’  teaching experience  but only a year implementing flipped learning, searching the internet for videos, images, quizzes and interactive games that will help them prepare for their teaching, supplement their lessons and find inspiration from others.

Creating, curating and reflecting

The debate exists in the flipped learning world whether teachers should create or curate their own resources. Jon Bergmann’s talk that the flipped classroom is all about building relationships with your students suggests that creating is the way to their minds and hearts, but what do teachers think? In our survey 55% of teachers are relieved because using free online resources means that they don’t have to create their own materials. Decent support for the idea of curating, one would think, but does this resolve the issue? Certainly not: a strong 38% of teachers are undecided, which brings it all back to square one. However, one thing seems to be clear, if it is all about relationships indeed, teachers are not worried about what their students might think of them if they don’t create their own videos and use some other teacher’s instead (89%).

Jon also talked about the need for teachers to engage in reflective practice as they flip their classroom, does the use of free online resources help them become more reflective? 90% of our respondents say they reflect more on the way they teach, 69% that they more frequently compare their teaching with others.

How open is the flipped learning community?

Here’s the challenge: 96% of teachers have created resources to use in their flipped classrooms; 44% have published these resources publicly online, but only 6% under a Creative Commons license, despite the fact that 70% consider open licensing important or very important. Isn’t this curious? Only once during FlipCon13 I heard a teacher saying “Here are my resources, use them, do whatever you like with them”.  I’m in the same room, I can hear her but when I access her blog, I don’t know what I can do with her wonderful videos. I honestly think that K12 teachers engaged in flipped learning are also engaged, for the most part, in open practice, but they need to spell it out better for the rest of the world. Can we help?

Photo: CC-BY B. de los Arcos