Tag Archives: The Shuttleworth Foundation

The state of the nation 2008 – belatedly

Looking back, I see that the last time I posted a blog was in November 2007. It is now April 2008. This should not be read as a sign that things here have ground to a halt. On the contrary, a hectic round of overwork has overtaken our lives, a treadmill of projects, meetings, workshops, and conferences. I hope that this means that South Africa is moving forward in opening scholarly communications. However, South Africa is never straightforward, so in reviewing what has been happening while I have had my head down all these months, I do not expect to report unremitting sunshine – there have been some showers, although overall the signs are good.

This overview of the projects that are in progress right now is the first instalment of a review of the way the year is looking – with quite a few items that I will need to pick up in more detail in upcoming blogs.

Collaborative Projects

In November 2006, in Bangalore, some of us – funders and consultants – got together to propose some collaboration in trying to map across one another to create greater coherence achieving our mutual goals of more open and effective research communications in Africa. This was discussed again in a meeting at iCommons in Dubrovnik in June 2006 and we are now beginning to see the results. One major benefit that has emerged is that the projects that are now being implemented, because they are built on open access principles, can share each others’ research findings and resources, reducing duplication and increasing impact. The projects also recognise that achieving policy change is a multi-pronged process, working at all levels of the university system, from individual lecturers (often young and lively innovators at the junior end of the hierarchy) to senior administrators and government policy-makers. Leveraging the impact of several projects to achieve this makes a lot of sense.

The projects I am now involved in, that are part of this collaboration, include:

  • Opening Scholarship, a UCT-based project, funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, is using a case study approach to explore the potential of ICT use and social networking to transform scholarly communication between scholars, lecturers and students, and the university and the community.
  • PALM Africa (Publishing and Alternative Licensing in Africa), funded by the IDRC, is exploring what the the application of flexible licensing regimes – including the newly-introduced CC+ and ACAP – can do to facilitate increased access to
    knowledge in South Africa and Uganda through the use of new business models combining open access and sustainable commercial models.
  • A2K Southern Africa, another IDRC project, is investigating research publication and open access in universities in the Southern African Regional Universities Association.
  • The Shuttleworth Foundation and the OSI are supporting the Publishing Matrix project which is using an innovative, wiki-based approach to map the South African publishing industry along the whole value chain in such a way as to identify where open access publishing models could have most impact.

Some interesting results are already emerging. The sharing of resources is speeding up the process of getting projects off the ground. Researchers are given instant access to background reports, bibliographies and readings and can review each others’ tagged readings in del-icio-us. The advantages become obvious as I head off this evening for a planning workshop for the researchers carrying out the A2KSA investigations with a range of briefing materials and readings instantly to hand.

Even more interestingly, having Frances Pinter of the PALM project explain to South African publishers and NGOs that flexible licensing models had the potential to defuse the stand-off between open access advocates and commercial publishers, and members of the Opening Scholarship team at the same meeting explaining how the use of new learning environments was changing the way teaching and learning was happening, led to some unexpected enthusiasm for the potential of new business models. Then Juta, the largest of the South African academic textbook publishers, asked for a day-long workshop at UCT with the Opening Scholarship and PALM teams to study these issues. I have little doubt that listening to some of the innovative approaches that are being taken by young lecturers at UCT opened the publishers’ minds to the need to push further their forward thinking about the ways in which their businesses might change in the near future. A similar discussion is to be held with OUP South Africa in the next week.

Open Source and Open Access connect

We have found useful spaces in Vula – the UCT version of the Sakai learning management environment – to maintain project
communications and track progress in our projects, using its social networking tools (something we perhaps learned from students who identified this potential for student societies).  Funders and guests from other projects can eavesdrop, creating greater coherence within and across project teams and giving donors a real sense of participation in the projects

they are funding. Vula, by the way has been hugely successful at UCT and there has been a steady and very substantial growth in the number of courses online – reaching over 800 already this year (from under 200 in 2006) – and enthusiastic endorsement by students of the usefulness of the learning environment. I have little doubt that the flexibility of an open source system leads in turn to the potential for more openness in the use of teaching materials – but more of that in a separate blog.

Open Education celebration

Right now, to celebrate UCT’s commitment to Open Education, we are heading down the hill to the Senate Room, where there is to be an official signing of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, making UCT, I think, one of the first major universities to sign as an institution. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall will sign for the university and around 50 guests, from senior academics and administrators to students will, we hope, sign individually, before raising a glass of good South African wine to the potential for opening the gates of learning.

Open Sourcing Education

After weeks of intermittent rain, the sun finally came out – bright but chilly – for a gathering of open education activists from around the world, meeting at the Shuttleworth Foundation’s offices, set in beautiful gardens in the Cape Town suburbs. We were there to discuss the possibility of drafting a Declaration on Open Education Resources, The model for the exercise was the OSI’s Budapest Open Access Initiative, so influential in profiling and driving the Open Access movement over the last 6 years. The Cape Town meeting followed on from the workshop sessions held at the iCommons Summit in Dubrovnik in June (which are reported on by Mark Surman and Phillipp Schmidt on the iCommons blog), and sought to codify and consolidate the understandings of open education mapped out in Dubrovnik.

The workshop was supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation and the Open Society Institute and was attended by an impressive array of leading names in open education, from Mark Surman, who helped facilitate the workshop, Darius Cuplinskas and Melissa Hageman from the OSI Information Programme, Helen King, Karien Bezuidenhout and Andrew Rens from Shuttleworth, Phillipp Schmidt from the University of the Western Cape, James Dalziel of Macquarie E Learning, Richard Baranuik from Rice University, Paul West from the Commonwealth of Learning, David Wiley from Utah State University, Peter Bateman from the Open University, Delia Browne from the Australian Copyright Advisory Group, Werner Westerman from Chile, student textbook activist David Rosenfeld from the US PIRG consumer group, Lisa Petrides from IKSME – and many more. The proceedings, which were very interactive, were tracked in a wiki during the course of the discussions, as the facilitators used a number of workshop techniques to collectively map the terrain, agree on values, identify strategies and brainstorm the selling points of open education resources.

What came out of this meeting for me? First of all, a realisation that the OER terrain is very complex, from a number of perspectives. Drafting a statement is going to  be an even more complex task than the Budapest Initiative and it will need to incorporate the diversity that emerged across the education system, vertically and geograhically, in the course of our discussions. Most importantly, there are major differences between the provision of resources at different levels of the education system – not always acknoweldged in the OER discussions. At schools level, there are much stronger local differences, of language, curriculum requirements and cultural imperatives. At all levels, it was acknowledged that the provision of content on its own was not enough, but that process and educator support needed to be built in. A revelation was the emerging realisation that, although the emphasis tends to be on textbooks for the classroom, it is in providing resources and training in how to use them for teachers that might have the biggest impact.

Important for me was the issue of local production and cultural diversity. The OER debate has moved on from the early days in which, all too often, an easy assumption was made that the provision of quality content from the North would solve problems of access to knowledge in one easy move. Interestingly, there was some agreement among the workshop delegates, not only that there needed to be globally distributed OER development and collaborative partnerships for adaptation and translation, but that sustainability was perhaps to be found in partnerships with commercial entities in new business models for the production of learning materials.

Brainstorming on what the world of education would look like in ten years’ time produced some really exciting visions of a very changed education system, much more lateral, much more distributed, but one in which the role of the teacher as mentor remained of vital importance. As James Dalziel said, “If we get open education right, we can change the world.” Although there was disageement on a number of issues and some robust debate, what emerged in the end was a manageable terrain, where the disagreements could be built into diversity, rather than being disruptive of the consensus that was reached. The most contentious issue turned out to be that of the kinds of licence that would be appropriate and that would signal true openness. This is something on which consensus is going to need to be reached over the next few months.

The availability of technology in the poorer countries of the world is a major concern and it was clear that this would need to be addressed if the vision of this group was truly to be a global one. Also, the interrelation between open access and open source software is important in education provision, given the role of delivery platforms and content repositories and the need to provide maximum support for teachers and learners.

The next steps? A draft declaration will be drawn up by Mark Surman, working with three ‘stewards’, Ahrash Bissell of CC Learn, Delia Browne, an IP lawyer working for the Copyright Advisory Group of the Australian government and  James Dalziel from the E Learning Centre of  Excellence at Macquarie University, also Australia. This will then be circulated to the broader group for feedback before being more widely canvassed. High profile supporters from academe and the educational world will be sought as champions for the initiative.

As Darius Cuplinskas said, “We’re about to launch a wave of creative disruption.” I am looking forward to it.

Lively debate in Cape Town