Monday, February 16, 2009

Access2OER: The CCK08 Solution

Contributed to the UNESCO OER discussion list, February 16, 2009.

I believe it would be worth a few words to describe a course run by George Siemens and I last fall. The course was titled 'Connectivism and Connective Knowledge'. It was offered through the University of Manitoba as a credit course, but we also offered the course for free to any person interested. It came to be called the MOOC - Massive Open Online Course.

* Participants: A note about the learners and educators involved. Who provided the solution, for whom?

George Siemens and I acted as instructors. Logistical internet support was offered by the University of Manitoba, by Dave Cormier, and by myself. 24 students registered and paid fees to the University of Manitoba. 2200 people signed up for the course as non-paying participants. We offered all aspects of the course to both paying and non-paying participants, with the exception that paying participants submitted assignments for grading and received course credit.

* Context: A note about the context, e.g. socio-economic conditions, geographical region, rural vs. urban, available internet access, ...

Participants registered from around the world, with an emphasis on the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking world. The course was offered in English; Spanish participants translated key materials for their own use. The course attracted a wide range of participants, from college and university students to researchers to professors and corporate practitioners.

* Solution: Please give details of the solution here.

The course was designed to operate in a distributed environment; we did not centralize on a single platform or technology. With the assistance of University staff and Dave Cormier, George and I set up the following course components:
- a wiki, in which the course outline and major links were provided
- a blog, in which course announcements and updates were made
- a Moodle installation, in which threaded discussions were held
- an Elluminate environment, in which synchronous discussions were held
- an aggregator and newsletter, in which student contributions were collected and distributed
We encouraged students to create their own course components, which would be linked togethere with the course structure. Students contributed, among other things:
- three separate Second Life communities, two of which were in Spanish
- 170 individual blogs, on platforms ranging from Blogger to edublogs to WordPress and more
- numerous concept maps and other diagrams
- Wordle summaries
- Google group, including a separate group for registered participants

* Key Barriers: Please give some of the key barriers to access addressed by this solution. (Ideally referring back to our list of access issues.)

o Access in terms of awareness. (Lack of awareness is a barrier to OER.)

Given that we attracted 2200 people, we addressed the lack of awareness in some fashion. The course was not widely advertised; it was posted on George Siemens' and my newsletters. That said, these newsletters are leading sources of information to a community that would be interested in the course.

o Access in terms of local policy / attitude. (Do attitudes or policies pose barriers to using OER?)

One of the major attractors was that the course was offered by the University of Manitoba. It was necessary to convince the university to offer an open course, which George Siemens managed by adding the enrollment component. In one sense, the paying students funded the non-paying students; in another sense, offering the course as an open course created sufficient marketing to attract the paying students. The Universioty was satisfied with this result and will be employing the same model again.

o Access in terms of languages. (How well does the user speak the language of the OER?)

We did not provide multilingual access. However, because we encouraged participants to create their own resources, we created the conditions which enabled a large self-managed Spanish-language component to the course.

o Access in terms of relevance? (Is the OER relevant to the user?)

The design of the course - as a distributed connectivist-model course - created a structure in which the course contents formed a cluster of resources around a subject-area, rather than a linear set of materials that all students must follow. because participants were creating their own materials, in addition to ther resources found and created by George Siemens and myself, it became apparent in the first week that no participant could read or view all the materials. We made it very clear that the expectation was that participants should sample the materials, selecting only those they found interesting and relevant, thereby creating a personal perspective on the materials, that would inform their discussions.

o Access in terms of licensing. (Is the licensing suitable / CC?)

All course contents and recording were licensed as Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial.

o Access in terms of file formats. (Are the file formats accessible?) Access in terms of disability.

We did not try to provision access in all formats; rather, we employed a wide variety of formats for different materials and encouraged mash-ups, translations, and other adaptations.

o Access in terms of infrastructure (Lack of power/computers makes access hard.)

We experienced a full range of issues. Basic course material was provided in HTML and plain text, however, various course components reqired more bandwidth. The use of UStream proved useful to nobody, as the bandwidth requirements were too great even for instructors. Skype worked well for planning and recording, but not for instructing. Elluminate was effective with limited bandwidth, but had limits on the number of seats we could offer (it was capped at 200, though to be fair, Elluminate said they would extend this as needed). We made MP3 recordings of all audio for download. Second life was accessible only to those with sufficient bandwidth and platform. Essentially, the structure of the course provided a wide range of access types, making it possible for people with limited infrastructure to participate, while still employing more intensive applications.

o Access in terms of discovery. (If the OER is hidden, not searchable, not indexed, it's hard to find.)

Though we provided search, the major resource related to discover has nothing to do with search. The provision of a daily newsletter aggregating and distributing course content proved to be a vital link for participants. A steady enrollment of 1870 persisted through the duration of the course. In evaluations and feedback participants said that the newsletter was their lifeline. A full set of archives was provided, allowing people to explore the material chronologically, to make up days they may have missed.

o Access in terms of ability and skills. (Does the end user have the right skills to access?)

One of the things that we noticed was that, by combining participants from a wide range of skill sets, people were able to - and did - help each other out. This ranged from people answering questions and poviding examples in the discussion areas, to people commenting on and supporting each others' blogs, to those with more skills setting up resources and facilities, such as the translations and Second Life discussion areas.

* Scalability: Please comment on how your solution might "scale".

We believe that the connectivist model employed in this course might offer a unique approach to the problem of scalability. We could not, nor did we try, to provision everything that was needed for 2200 students. Rather, we created conditions, and encouragements, where participants would provide additional resources for themselves. The role of the instructors and facilitators is essential in this model, but this role is not to provide solutions but rather to establish a basic structure.

Regarding marking and recognition, the course offered an insight that may prove useful in the future. While 24 students were graded by the University of Manitoba, we did receive (and grant) a request for a student from another country to be assessed and graded by their own institution. All assignment descriptions were displayed as part of the open course, and the assessment metric was also distributed, so other institutions could know everything needed in order to provide evaluation and feedback.

* Questions: What questions should we be asking about this solution that will add to our understanding of enabling access to knowledge and learning resources?

I think the main questions are in the area of applicability: would this model work in other areas? Would it work in other communities?

In addition, I am exploring the question of whether this approach can be supported with technology designed specifically for this model, for example, the creation of serialized feeds to automatically create and conduct ohorts through the course material.

* Implications and adoption: What are the implications of this solution for OER and enabling access to knowledge and learning?

The course - which came to be known simply as CCK08 - was a landmark, we believe, in open access, because while providing the formal requirements of open learning - course structure and content, recognition, assessment and credentials - it nonetheless operated on a very different model from other OER initiatives. Materials for the course were not 'produced' in the traditional; sense - rather, the instructors created a framework, populated that framework with open materials already extant on the web, added some commentary and videos of their own, conducted open online sessions and recordings, and created the infrastructure for wide student participation.

* Links: If there are any web links to initiatives or projects, please include them!

Course materials may be accessed from the course wiki:
Here is the course blog:
Here is the newsletter site (note that newsletter publication ceased with the end of the course):
Here are some participant feeds:

I hope you found this contribution useful.