Scottish Government Support for Open Education?

“We broadly support open licences and OER and need a serious public debate on this issue.”

~Michael Russell, MSP

This was the Minister for Education’s response to a question I put to him earlier today regarding Scottish Government support for open education policy and open licences for publicly funded educational resources in order to benefit learners, not just within Scotland, but internationally.  The Minister was speaking at the Future of Higher Education In Scotland and the UK event in Edinburgh, organised by the ESRC Fellowship Project: Higher Education, the Devolution Settlement and the Referendum on Independence.

In a wide-ranging speech outlining the Scottish Government’s vision of higher education in an independent Scotland, Russell stated that we need an education sector that can meet the challenge of new technological advancement and institutions that can fully explore the potential of new technologies for learning. MOOCs and OER have great potential to form new pathways to learning, to widen participation and promote a culture of collaborative development and reuse. Consequently a core group supported by SFC has been established to look at the benefits of OER and promote online learning resources produced by Scottish universities.  This group is composed of the Open University and the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde; UHI may also have a role to play. 

While it’s hugely encouraging to hear the Minister for Education acknowledging the importance, not just of the inevitable MOOCs, but of OER and open education more generally, I have some concerns that with such a narrow group of stakeholders involved in the core group, the scope of the debate might fail to encompass the wider benefits of open education to the Scottish sector as a whole.  Open education policies and practice have the potential to benefit teachers and learner right across the sector, in schools, colleges and universities, in formal and informal learning scenarios, and to support life long learning right across the board.

As yet, no further details have been released regarding the nature of the core group activities and the level of SFC investment, so we will continue to watch these developments with interest.  

ETA A summary transcript of Russell’s speech has been made available by the Scottish Government here. The relevant paragraphs relating to open education are as follows:

“I am very encouraged by the potential of massive open online courses – short courses delivered online that can be taken by anyone, anywhere. Of course, we must ensure quality of provision, however, free resources such as these have great potential to provide pathways to formal learning and widen participation in higher education.

“That is why I have indicated to the Scottish Funding Council that, in supporting this new work, they should facilitate the best open practice in Scotland and enhance the sector’s capacity and reputation for developing publicly available online learning materials.

“It is a very exciting prospect that a student anywhere in the world can access materials presented by world-class academics working in world class Scottish universities.

Martin Hawksey has made a twitter archive of the event hashtag available here: #HEScot and all papers from the event have now been uploaded here: Seminar 3: The future of higher education in Scotland and the UK.

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…funding, if…

A thought provoking addition to the Open Scotland debate by Graeme Arnott. 

Graeme is a Training Officer with the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and manages the Scottish Joint Industry Board‘s (SJIB) Adult Training Scheme. He’s a member of Wikimedia UK, and a Community Coordinator with OKF Scotland.

Following a talk on Open Scotland which SQA’s Joe Wilson and I presented at the JISC RSC Joint Forum on Open Education in Edinburgh last November, Graeme Arnnot has posted a reply called “funding, if”.  In a challenging and thought provoking response, Graeme explores some of the real world barriers, including the perceived threat of “the other”, that prevent colleagues, particularly in  the FE sector, from sharing and opening access to their resources.  Graeme begins by quoting two anonymous college lecturers:

 1. I get ‘open’, I really do…but why should I share anything when the enemy down the road gives fuck all?

2. I would, but that would mean asking other members of staff for their packs,… and they wouldn’t like that

Graeme suggest that to some extent this attitude demonstrates

 …not just how deeply the institutions had embodied that ideology of Thatcherite competition, but also how effectively that rivalrous structure has, in turn, been internalised by their staff members.

In response to Martin Weller’s assertion that the battle for open has already been won and that the real battle will now determine the future narrative of open, Graeme argues that if the battle has been won, it has

…it has been won elsewhere, and the battle to define open is being fought elsewhere.  In other words, the opinion of the Scottish educational sector won’t be heard because we aren’t present on the battlefield.

However Graeme also highlights some positive developments, including the Glasgow Future City project and the recent Norwegian Government report on massive open online courses, which could have an impact on encouraging the development of policy that will help to “put in place the practices that make sharing spontaneous.”

Graeme echoes Creative Commons’ Cable Green, in suggesting that public money should only be awarded to educational institutions that adopt open practices that are genuinely beneficial to the public.   In conclusion, Graeme argues that changing the nature of  institutional funding could have a significant impact on encouraging openness and proposes adapting some of the key points outlined by the Nordic OER Alliance as follows:

Scottish FE institutions could continue to receive

  • funding, if they invest in improving  the level of digital literacies of their staff which makes openness possible;
  • funding, if their staff make available top quality open educational resources;
  • funding, if they develop the infrastructure and pedagogy of online learning
  • funding, if  the public derives benefit from their MOOC

I’d encourage you to read the full text of this important contribution to the open education debate in Scotland on Graeme’s own blog here: http://postmodeblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/opening-scotland_funding_if/