“The impact of OER in the education and training sector in India: from content to an inclusive learning ecosystem”

“The impact of OER in the education and training sector in India: from content to an inclusive learning ecosystem”

Substance of a talk to be given at the 2nd OER Symposium at the Wavasan Open University, Penang Malaysia on 25th June 2014

Flow :
1. Drivers of the OER movement
2. The Sharing Economy
3. The OER Community
4. The Indian OER initiative
5. Expectations from OER
6. Creating an OER ecosystem
7. Capability Maturity Model
8. A few questions for research and exploration
9. The challenge of reading proficiency
10. Conclusion

1. Drivers of the OER movement:
This story is supported by a lot of hindsight, some interesting insights, daring some foresight and my apologies for any significant oversight.
The dominant narrative of the more than a decade old story of OERs is the liberation from stringent punitive copyright regime to a Creative Commons licensing system for easily sharing increasingly more educational content. The 3Vs of Big Data, that is variety, volume and velocity make this a very vibrant movement. But running alongside during the same timeline is a track of technological developments of lighter, portable, low power consuming, access devices such as Tablets, SmartPhones, wearable devices and mobile Internet, and the third track of developments in and adoption of innovative pedagogies of MOOCs, Flipped Classroom, Learning Analytics, Open Badges, Gamification, Storification and others. These three driving forces are enhancing the impact of the OER movement leading to an unprecedented disruptive transformation of education that can deliver massive personalised learning on the move.

2. The Sharing Economy:
The emerging future has been variously referred to as the knowledge economy, the innovation economy, the economy of ‘ abundance’, but most importantly it is a ‘sharing economy’. Value addition by ‘sharing’ rather than ‘owning, hoarding and controlling’ either directly by virtue of sovereignty of the State or by conferring by the State of exclusive Intellectual Property Rights, is the new metaphor, inflexion point, tipping point or phase transition.
What happens in a phase transition is that for quite some time, there is no apparent effect ( of the force at work) in the state of the system, and then magically at the critical point there is a complete transformation. And the new phase can demonstrate entirely new interesting properties.
The OER movement is perhaps at a similar critical point today, and we will soon witness how the ‘sharing economy’ transforms traditional models of education and training.

3. The OER Community:
The emergence of an OER community is the most significant impact of the OER movement, and transcends the technologies that facilitated it. Garrett Hardin in 1968 with a well known essay ‘ The Tragedy of the Commons’ delivered a near death blow to any hope from communities working together, until the importance of the community was resurrected by the Nobel Prize (2009) winning work of Elinor Ostrom, who demonstrated that a community’s common resources are really best managed by the community, rather than either by the Government or the large corporates. A prerequisite however being that decision-making be transparent and democratic. Elinor’s research studies showed that when individuals have to answer for their actions to others using the same resources, the approach to shared responsibility changes.
I wanted to draw attention to this fundamental principle, as it is critical to build the future scenario of a thriving and vibrant OER based learning community.

4. The Indian OER initiative:
A national e-content and curriculum initiative was launched in 2008 to stimulate the creation, adaptation and utilisation of OER by Indian Institutions, in addition to leveraging globally produced OER ( http://knowledgecommission.gov.in).
The National Repository of Open Educational Resources (http://nroer.gov.in), came into being in August, 2013. A repository of digital media content (audio, video, interactive objects, images and documents) mapped to key concepts spanning of the school curriculum, as of May 2014 has more than 10,000 registered users. The software platform hosting the NROER is based on MetaStudio (http://www.metastudio.org) an initiative of the Gnowledge Labs, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai. Its beta version is to be rolled out in July, 2014 and developments will continue over a period of three years.

The Indian President Pranab Mukherjee addressed a joint sitting of the newly elected Parliament on 9th June 2014 wherein at para 12 he refers to MOOCs and virtual classrooms ; the address also refers to a national e-library to empower teachers in the following words” In order to empower school teachers and students, a national e-library will be established. ” This is expected to become the new incarnation of the ‘National Repository of Open Education Resources’ launched about a year ago. Later in the speech at para 22, the last sentence states : ” Emerging technologies like Social Media will be used as a tool for participative governance, directly engaging the people in policy making and administration. ”
We can expect that the general spirit is in the direction of using current and emerging technology to overcome the challenge of numbers, the challenge of cost, the challenge of quality and the challenge of speed.

As a non-government initiative, and by seeking co-operation of like-minded evangelists, the LMP Education Trust in August 2013 ran a 4 week MOOC to bring about awareness of OERs. This OER MOOC, anchored in India had experts pitching in from several countries with about 1500 participants from about 90 countries and explored not only Flipped Teaching but also Twitter for class collaboration.

Indian students of all ages have enthusiastically joined the well known MOOCs from Coursera, Futurelearn and other providers, demonstrating a great appetite for such learning, but are a phenomenon that I label as ‘ education for the educated’.

5. Expectations from OER:
Some general positive tangible and intangible impact that OERs are expected to make are:
* Improvement in student performance and satisfaction.
* The open aspect of OER should foster widespread usage and adoption patterns compared to other online resources
* Open education models should lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education
* Use of OER would be an effective method for improving retention for at-risk students
* Use of OER by educators should lead to improvement in their practice
* OER adoption at an institutional level, should lead to financial benefits for students
* Informal learners can compensate for the lack of formal support
* Open education can complement formal education
* Successful OER pilots and programs lead to policy change at institutional level
* Innovative assessment and credentialing , such as badges, can be motivators to learning with OER

6. Creating an OER ecosystem:
But the movement will not succeed by freeing content alone. The famous inventor Thomas Edison, amongst other things invented the incandescent lamp. But his real success happened because he could create a whole ecosystem for these bulbs to be used, including finding investors in his ‘General Electric’.
His philosophy : “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

We could also compare OER content to generic drugs as opposed to patented drugs. Generic drugs for treatment are a subset of the total medicines available, and may be complete effective solutions in many cases. But even in those happy situations where generic drugs are effective, the rest of the healthcare eco-system needs to be put in place.

Similarly we need to make sure that we have the entire support ecosystem consisting of the following elements in place and in sync for the OER movement to make the expected impact.
* Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) for autonomous self-directed life-long learners, with coaching and mentoring support.
* Open Teacher Development Forum (OTDF) for accredited OER based Independent Educators. Open Education can support teacher development so that teachers do get better with time. Teaching is a performance profession.
* Learning Resources: OERs, MOOCs, SOOCs, nano-MOOCs, micro-MOOCs and mini-MOOCs, Educational Apps, and other nano-learning objects created, curated and adapted by educators. Localised in language and context.
* Teaching-Learning Models: Flipped Learning, Adaptive Learning, Personalised Learning, Heutagogy
* Assessment: Open Badges and Backpacks, Learning Locker an open source Learning Record Store (LRS) for tracking learning data, de-materialised degrees/certificates
* Physical learning Spaces: connected classrooms, learning lounges, OER Cafes
* Content access devices: Tablets, Smartphones, other handhelds
* Mobile Internet access : wiMax, wi-fi, 3G,4G, LTE etc.
* EdTech Support HelpDesk
* Cloud-based software, search engines, meta-data for OER resources and database systems support, including use of Big Data technologies
* Non-formal and life-long learning, including a school for the 40+ for the second half of life.
* Social Media tools such as blogs and Twitter to support collaborative and co-operative learning ( jigsaw learning)

7. Capability Maturity Model:
When we want to assure ourselves that we are making progress towards creating a culture of OERs, merely collecting large amounts of data is not enough. In order to be able to assess where we are, I am proposing an analogy from a framework that has served the Software industry well, and emanated out of Carnegie Mellon, called the CMM.
Capability Maturity Model is a framework for progression to the discipline needed to engage in continuous improvement.
The model identifies five levels of process maturity:
Level 1: Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, heroic) the starting point for use of OERs
Level 2: Repeatable: OERs have been used several times
Level 3: Defined (institutionalized): OERs are part of Institutional academic policy
Level 4: Managed (quantified): OERs are incorporated into rewards, promotion nd part of HR systems
Level 5: Optimizing (process improvement) process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement.
Just like a software organisation benchmarks itself against the levels listed, every organisation that is part of the OER movement could monitor its evolution against such a framework. We could make more levels and write detailed descriptors of attributes ( both qualitative and quantitative) for each level.
In addition to developing this further, I have listed in the following section, a few more questions that need to be answered through research and exploration.

8. A few questions for research and exploration:
There are many unanswered questions to which we need to have answers to inform on the ground implementation of the above ideas:
* What would be the right size of the learning cohort? Very small numbers such as 20 would be meaningless, as would be millions. Is a class of 1000 or 10,000 more viable. Maybe the Dunbar number (150) is worth exploring?
* What is the best way to cope with linguistic diversity?
* What skill sets must learners have to benefit most from OERs?
* What additional skill sets must experienced educators acquire to teach effectively with OERs? What must be done by way of capacity building to assure quality in the OERs created, curated or adapted by them?
* Are there programs that can be delivered entirely with OERs? An MBA, and IT qualification or new emerging domains such as ‘ Data Scientist’
* Can OERs be sustainable for long without a mechanism for financial contribution by the ‘users’. What would be the right price( if any) for OERs?
* What should be the most appropriate technology platform ( including media formats and other standards) for mass education with OERs? We have a natural inclination to support Android on the handhelds rather than the others. But many specific features to support Open Learning are perhaps needed.

9. The challenge of reading proficiency:
While pursuing the reasons for the relatively low adoption of online learning in India, a country where almost everyone has a mobile phone and online commerce is flourishing, I realised that it is the lack of reading proficiency that is the fundamental barrier to the adoption of online learning. Though OERs are not only about online learning, in practice they go best with online learning.
I recently came across a very interesting report that concluded that while Maths is difficult, reading is harder. One reason students struggle to improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at a very young age. The ASER 2012 study amply brought it out. Students disadvantaged in mathematical or reading abilities are not able to acquire it in the following year, and it becomes a negatively spiralling learning catastrophe. So free resources are not of much use because they are incomprehensible. Math has clearer rules which makes it easier to teach and to understand. But reading and comprehension require more abstract thought and suitable vocabulary, and must be explicitly addressed.
This will require Open Learner Diagnostics to identify the gaps in skills that come in the way of making progress, and short focused learning interventions based on newer pedagogies ( nano-learning objects) that will evolve into an ‘ educational diagnostics and learning navigation system’ analogous to a GPS for learning. The domains can expand to cover reading, writing, mathematical thinking, computational thinking and so on.

At the teacher end, also there are barriers to active adoption. There is no clear answer to the questions in the minds of but not explicitly asked by many participants in orientation and awareness programs, which is ‘ what’s in it for me?’. An authority driven hierarchical social structure and hesitation in collaboration and sharing are also some implicit barriers to widespread adoption.

10. Conclusion:
As we see the OER movement step up to the next stage of fulfilling its promise, supported by evolving and emerging technologies and pedagogies, its focus areas could be:
* to make every learner a better and motivated self-directed learner, who can access need based learning, with very few constraints or restrictions.
* to make every teacher a more effective teacher, who is accessible to learners at remote geographies.
* to provide opportunities for life-long learners, especially to have an opportunity for ‘the school for the second half of life’
* to have a learner supportive system to facilitate the learner to move from the current position to the desired position in learning space

Then the Open Education movement would see its fulfilment.

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