Access2OER talk:Proposals

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The original OERWIKI seems to be offline (December 2012). The Access2OER discussion pages are preserved here for reference! The final report in pdf is available here: Access2OER_Report,


The report:
Contents
Introduction
Introduction to the report
Part 1 - Issues
What is access?
Issues and classification
SuperOER
Part 2 - Solutions
Solutions
Solutions criteria
Stories and solutions
Case studies
Part 3 - Proposals
Proposals
Conclusion
Conclusion and next steps
Appendix
Links
Blogs
Additional sections:
Introduction
Welcome
Invitation
Solutions
Stories 1
Stories 2
Stories 3
Case studies v1
Access initiatives v1
Proposals
OER Training proposal
Open Educational Resource Centres
OER exchange infrastructure
OER exchange infrastructure diagrams
Additional materials
Access2OER:Additional Considerations
HowTos
Index
Wiki only
Contents
Welcome
Invitation
Some technical notes
Discussion Log and Quotes:
Contents
Contents
Discussion Week 1
Issues
Classification
Comments on SuperOER
Overview of week 1 activities
Discussion Week 2
Discussion related to solutions put forward
Snippets from the general discussion
Overview of week 2 activities
Discussion Week 3
general discussion
OER training discussion
resource centre discussion
oer exchange discussion
stories discussion
All discussion on one page.
Additional pages
OER
Glossary
For authors:

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We have broken the discussion into several threads. To see all discussion on one page (to see where your post might have gone), see Access2OER:Week3AllDiscussion.

Contents


[edit] 1 Understanding the need

[edit] 1.1 Andy Lane

Having been on leave for most of this discussion it has taken some time to read through all the interesting posts over the past 2 days. From doing that I make a few observations and comments.

First the discussion starts with looking at Access to OER but often moves on to looking at Access to (open?) education (where OER may play a part). While this is understandable, and there are some overlaps, I do feel that the latter is too big an issue and the focus should be OER and the role it can play in education - more on which below. (I should say that Bjoern's summaries do tend to stick more to just OER and not open education).

Second, the many access issues are a mix of ones relevant to teachers and ones relevant to learners. Again, while there are overlaps the two groups are different. Much of the discussion seems to be about teachers but the nature of OER means that if not now, certainly in the future, many learners will have equal access to 'raw' OER as their teachers.

Third, I have written elsewhere (at least in the first attached paper for the 2008 CoL conference) about the issues of availability, accessibility and acceptability of OER. These touch on different parts of the Access list produced here and can be applied for both teachers and learners (it is only the latter I talk about in the paper although I do talk about some teaching issue in the second attached paper which appeared on Terra Incognita).

Fourth, the issue of training in educational principles and practices, whether using ICTs or not, is a generic one. So is the focus on using educational resources per se or only open educational resources? Is it to be focussed on technology or pedagogy or both and how does all that compare with the work of the many open and distance teaching universities who already do lots of this? (I must declare an interest being at an open university).

Fifth, this last point leads into another broader one about the place of OER in education. Educational resources are plentiful but not always available, accessible or acceptable. They are mostly created through the market economy (private publishers etc) or the public economy (by public universities funded by taxes). OER provide an extra and growing social or gift economy where there are free at the point of use (but not cost free to produce or maintain as noted by others and a topic I could say much more on but not here). Whether local, global, sectoral, cultural or social, the act of creating and using OER is a market transaction. Now the market can be controlled and regulated (it mostly is for education) but the value of OER is that it should be for the users to determine the value and to use OER to enhance, replace or reconstruct the educational needs at the most appropriate level. This applies at the very particular level between teachers and learners (see third attachment a version of chapter in this Educause book). it is in this latter area that the issue of OER delivery and exchange fall.

Sorry this does not provide proposals as such but that depends on us having a better shared understanding of the scope of the need the proposal is addressing and i am not clear that we have that understanding of the need even if we strongly share values that this is/ought to be worth putting much effort into.

  1. PCF5/Governance_and_social_justice: http://www.wikieducator.org/images/f/f2/PID_405.pdf
  2. Terra Incognita: http://blog.worldcampus.psu.edu/index.php/2008/11/26/systems-for-supportive-open-teaching/
  3. The tower and the cloud: http://www.educause.edu/thetowerandthecloud/PUB7202p/138675

[edit] 1.2 Tom Abeles

Andy opens up the discussion while attempting to confine or focus it.

First, we have to stop thinking about education as students moving through a system in age-defined cohorts with a teacher and a "classroom". The advent of OER and computers, whether on or off the internet further pushes this deconstruction of the traditional model. The changes in this mindset is more earth shaking because social systems change slowly, and by their very nature and design, educational institutions are lagging indicators.

Secondly, as has been pointed out on this list and the experience of many of us, the role of children in a society, particularly in a developing country impacts significantly on the ability of the students to attend school, the age/education/experience/ of teachers is very different further challenging that there was ever the idealized model.

The playing field called education is different. The rules of play are different and both are changing. We, particularly in this discussion, have focused on the "box" and the content stuffed in the box or retrieved from the box. What the box and its content have revealed is that the system itself has problems which change the nature of the game. Unfortunately, at this point in time, these systems vary in and across political boundaries. The box/content are changing as we have discussed- just think smart phones- and we do not know whether there needs or even can be a commons across these issues.

This conversation has some very creative options and opportunities but also points out that "one size does not fit all". What we are creating is a meta database.

[edit] 1.3 Andy Lane

Quote image Yes I did since I felt it was needed. Personally I am much more interested in the issue of open education than open educational resources and am happy to discuss that at length, but there are orders of magnitude differences between consideration of the former where the latter is but one part and just the latter which seemed to be the starting point for the discussion. The scope also affects what proposals we want to work on.


[edit] 1.4 Bjoern

Quote image Sorry this does not provide proposals as such but that depends on us having a better shared understanding of the scope of the need the proposal is addressing and i am not clear that we have that understanding of the need even if we strongly share values that this is/ought to be worth putting much effort into.

Thanks for your posts, and raising those important points. Some understanding of the issues and needs was developed in the earlier discussion, but the current wiki text didn't link back to these.

There are currently three proposals:

and I have now amended them with the various issues adressed, and linked back to the barrier-classification Access2OER:2 Access Issues

which in turn links back to the original discussion: Access2OER:Issues

For instance, the proposals for improved delivery mechanisms and OER exchange mechanisms Access2OER:OER exchange adresses the following issues/barriers:

  • Social, awareness, policy, attitude, cultural:
    • Access in terms of local policy / attitude. (Do attitudes or policies pose barriers to using OER?)
  • Technical: Provision of OER
    • Access in terms of file formats. (Are the file formats accessible?)
  • Technical: Receiving OER
    • Access in terms of discovery. (If the OER is hidden, not searchable, not indexed, it's hard to find.)
    • Access in terms of ability and skills. (Does the end user have the right skills to access?)
  • Technical: Access in terms of internet connectivity / bandwidth (Slow connections pose a barrier to access.)

[edit] 1.5 Tom Abeles

Let me play contrarian here.

The questions and discussions on this list have been turned into proposals for workshops as we see from Bjoern's post [...]. As I have said in a previous post, the efforts here are like a play being presented for/to funding sources which woujld then support turning the questions into learning materials for workshops. It's a basic academic approach where new courses are used to bootstrap a faculty member's skill sets in an area as the course is developed. There are a whole set of underlying assumptions which have not been laid on the table, technical, social, political, cultural and financial.

about 3 decades ago, this same approach was tried with what one now labels appropriate technology (largely renewable energy and related sustainability). Those projects lie like skeletons across the developing world. It is at this point with the relabeling of the arena as "green" and significant advances that these are starting to have a toe hold in both the developed and developing world.

ICT's in general and the idea specifically focused on education is at a different point with different issues. And there is a very large body of literature on tech transfer and marketing which further changes the situation. But, many of the same pitfalls remain. The interesting point is that much of this information lies not in the development literature but in the business arena, some dealing with disruptive technologies, some in the more familiar microfinance/franchise arena. Others are in areas such as "virtual worlds", games/sims and other technologies, but not focusing on the tools and content but how these products/services/processes get into the "marketplace".

The focus on education is still in the incremental changes to the standard brick space models and mapping bricks into clicks. It is a lagging indicator.

To build a workshop or series of workshops around these ideas has a high probability of failure and at best will be a model which will be obsolete before the effort launches.

[edit] 1.6 Bjoern

Hi Tom,

Quote image

The questions and discussions on this list have been turned into proposals for workshops as we see from Bjoern's post below. As I have said in a previous post, the efforts here are like a play being presented for/to funding sources which woujld then support turning the questions into learning materials for workshops. It's a basic academic approach where new courses are used to bootstrap a faculty member's skill sets in an area as the course is developed. There are a whole set of underlying assumptions which have not been laid on the table, technical, social, political, cultural and financial.

...

To build a workshop or series of workshops around these ideas has a high probability of failure and at best will be a model which will be obsolete before the effort launches.

Your points are well taken: meaningful and community-owned international development is a tricky thing, and it's often not obvious what the right strategies are. At the same time, there is a lot of experience that has been built up over the years (cf. for instance DFIDs work in the UK). That's not to say that this is always taken on board by everybody who does develoment work, but there is experience and guidance there, as well as successful projects, some of which have been described during the present discussion.

The proposal clearly can't be to "build" a set of workshops (materials) in the "North", and then "dump" this onto the "South". That's not desirable, nor would it work. However, there are paradigms for successful engagement, and proposals need to build on and extend these.

Stephen wrote earlier:

Quote image On 26 Feb 2009, at 19:21, Stephen Downes wrote:

6. The production of open educational resources ought to be thought of as a community process, with the distribution of these resources established through a process of sharingrather than giving or sales. When the various considerations regarding the sustainability of OERs are taken into account, as I do here http://www.downes.ca/post/33401 then it seems clear that, unless the creation and management of OERs is community-based, the result will be a requirement for a significant overhead. When we think of OERs as something that aregiven, then we are inclined to channel resources to the givers, in order to sustain the giving. The givers, however, are typically those least in need of resources: it is no coincidence that the givers are large institutions such as MIT, Stanford, and Open University. But it is a misapplication of funds to channel resources to such large institutions, the entities in the value chain least in need of additional subsidy and support.

I suspect that there are quite a few people on this list who are in relatively stable positions (academically and otherwise), both in the North and South. Many of the people on this list are already working in teaching-related positions (be it at schools, universities, or distance learning initiatives), or are working closely with educators. And so I do think there are opportunities here for community-based processes, that have a chance of sustained outcomes.

[edit] 1.7 Douglas Tedford

Perhaps it could be useful to take a head count per the North/ South contrast of those who are participating:

  1. South: potential end user
  2. South: OER administrator or potential administrator
  3. North: working in South (developing world) currently on an OER-related project
  4. North: OER administrator or academic, but not currently implementing a project or on the ground

One note: It seems there is a lot of (valuable) advice presented by westerners, and the developing nation participants are not showing up for the current subject treated. How could perhaps more be encouraged to participate? Note: I appreciate reading accounts of the challenges for usage of OER/ Internet/ computer technology they are facing. Community-based decision making (i.e. community-driven development processes) seem to be essential to getting projects off the ground, fomenting lasting participation, etc.

Comments invited.

[edit] 1.8 Theo Lynn

Part of our ggfl.org project is to partner experienced OER developers with novices to develop one piece of shared resource together. In this way, there is real collaboration and capacity development but on a limited peer basis.

[edit] 1.9 Cecilia Mercado

I totally agree that the idea of building a set of workshops (materials ) in the North and then dump this in the south is undesirable ( especially for those in the south :) It might turn out as a futile exercise as it might not capture the real requirements in the south. This set up can be probably work only when all aspects of readiness are taken into account, then workable strategies along development to deployment to evaluation can be carried out. True enough, certain models can be applied along this case ( like for instance a North-South-South model)

[edit] 1.10 Douglas Tedford

I just want to add to your comments in support of the processes which [Bjoern is] promoting on the current theme.

One just can't say enough about attitude, which trumps experience or contact with established or accepted knowledge.

Thank you for pursuing the very difficult job of fomenting and sorting out this discussion. It is by learning from each other that we grow. Negative attitudes can tend to suppress or oppress creativity. There are many unexplored solutions to pursue.

There is a place for those who consider themselves the experts and those who are new to the field. The common requirement is commitment to improve OER access and engagement in developing nations.

[edit] 1.11 Douglas Tedford

I agree with Stephen's conclusion that the development of OER needs to be a community-based decision. This is what is currently happening with a foundation with whom I volunteer time in educational consulting. My list is not all-inclusive, but I would invite additions to it, because some of the factors promoting current planning and interest to develop a link to OER resources via their website are:

  1. recognition of interest among teachers they seek to serve (training onsite tied to OER utilization was promoted over a 2-year period)
  2. call for and participation in a study of why teachers were or were not participating in OER when provided free access to Internet
  3. discussion in a community meeting utilizing principles of Participatory Rural Appraisal
  4. access to technical support from an IT organization donating expertise and services to promote the project
  5. connection to an education professional willing to assist in design of project according to their specifications

[edit] 1.12 Tom Abeles

Hi Theo

I think your ideas of connecting via shared resources is on target. Cliff's e-Granary is another example of a 1:1 idea. The concept of web 2.0 is just such a connection/networking to learn/share, exchange ideas and problem-solve. We see this in the private sector with numerous software applications and we see it in the public sector with the entire gamut of social networking systems from Facebook to Twitter and beyond. We are seeing it in education as we move away from age-defined cohorts of students and "butts-in-seats" classes. Much of this is due to the technologies and the growing difference between what has been termed digital natives/digital immigrants though we need to get away from seeing these as congruent with age defined communities, e.g. youth and us old folk.

For the purpose of this discussion, this list is a very crude example of possibilities. People exchange ideas with people, links to web sites and the entire social networking limited only by time and technology. Workshops are a paradigmatic example of traditional butts-in-seats thinking, especially when we are dealing with OER and other uses of ICT's for education. One moves people only when there are reasons beyond transmitting information which can be digitized and put up on the web. Thus, if there are lessons learned or to be learned in this arena, then we need to use that medium about which we wish to talk about. The growth of communities of practioners follows naturally and individuals have the opportunity to participate in the manner which best suits their capabilities and situations.

As many of us know from past conferences/workshops and symposia, most of what is transmitted in the formal sessions could have been distributed by other means and what is of greatest benefit are the connections in the "halls". Web 2.0 is such a meeting space with more halls than formal meeting spaces. This is the problem with education in virtual worlds such as 2nd life (not your best choice of a platform, though). It is mapping bricks into clicks. Right now, this list has a toe into click space. To think of a traditional conference, class, workshop where bodies are moved to a central location is to default back into brick space rather than jumping into the pond with both feet.

The corporate world of Human Resource Management in the corporate sector is worthy of exploring, especially corporate communications and training. The world of "new media" is not just for the artistic community. There are many dimensions that need to be pulled into education technology so that it is not seen as another piece of hardware or software like an electronic white board.

[edit] 1.13 Tiffiniy Cheng

Just wanted to throw out a relevant point which supports Tom's point -- I believe that technology is at a point where it can become a part of the community rather than simply something that gets introduced and dies or leaves. It seems like using technology to create a sustainability model for communities, one where people can interact with it and build on top of it is the big opportunity we have in front of us. A principle behind community technology is technology should be able to allow people in countries all over the world to act on or execute on their own dreams, missions, ideas, education, etc. Technology is a tool and sometimes can't just be dumped. So, what do people need, if anything to feel more fulfilled, reach their goals? Creating a community portal that allows people in a community to communicate and build things with each other and the rest of the world seems like an amazing task.

Technology has been a basis for interaction, further communication, and individual and community development. Blogs, as you all know, may have helped communities build local news outlets and have decentralized the power of communication to homes and in the hands of individuals. Still, the issue is what are the technologies or practices or relationships that can create a basis for more progress from within the community. With education, the internet and software can have a key role. The answer to real community development could be based on any of these, including technology because technology is no longer a one-way development mechanism.

[edit] 1.14 Theo

While I agree social networking has a place at the table, I do not think it is THE table. I think there are shortcomings in these technologies too and social outcomes, positive and negative, that we cannot even start to explore at this stage.

For me, the question is how do we achieve step improvements in educational outcomes and reduce failed attempts at learning, regardless of geography. The answer to this question is not OERs, it is possibly open education. From a technology perspective, we need technology platforms, devices, content, capacity building but how will we fund these requirements? OERs are one part of the content and possibly the capacity building solution.

I find when we discuss "community" - sometimes we communicate/mean "community less commercial concerns" or "community less people who don't agree with our definitions"...I much prefer a multi-stakeholder approach to everything. A poor school in Africa, Asia, South America or Ireland wants the best content that meets their needs at the lowest cost (zero being the ideal) - whether it is open or not is not necessarily the be all and end all.

To some extent, this email list has been useful as it is creating a language of discussion but there is still some dissonance. Until we are all speaking the same language, I fear we will continue in the same direction but not necessarily together and possible wasting precious resources on multiple silos of disconnected activity.

If we are the sheep, who is the shepherd?


[edit] 2 Jennie writes

1. One Moodle can scale up to support 200,000 end-users and its programming modules are scale able also: Granted Road is Rough and Bumpy: Change is never easy but worth the effort ... and the cheapest method to using video web conferencing features or broadcasting classes is to purchase and maintain your own server .. all of the moodle modules are free to download and install and there is no licensing as they operate under a GNU OPEN SOURCE - CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSING ...

2. One Laptop One Child concept is an ideal again that has to be progressed towards .. and the idea presented of 1 PC per school house is a start and a realistic goal that is possible allowing for the sharing of a resource and not very much in the idea of supporting real homework expectations to be achieve unless the enrollment is very low to begin with ...

3. A challenge and lesson from MIT University: MIT to be tuition-free for families earning less than $75,000 a year

Nearly 30 percent of MIT students to have all tuition charges covered : http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/tuition-0307.html

If a large university has a heart and can forgo the costs of tuition and other dues and fees that are levied on the parents and their children : then could not a K-12 educational system be the same - you may be able to have more students and graduates of a school system - let the enrollment reflect that if a families income is at a substandard level for human existence and are financially unable to pay fees of any kind that then the education is free for the student .... a system with a heart ...

[edit] 3 Stephen Downes writes regarding "Thoughts on Solutions"

1. We have to accept that in some communities there will be priorities other than education. The need for clean water and safe food may be much more pressing, for example. In this discussion, we read of places without access to electricity. Providing electricity in such cases is of primary importance. Electricity - whether solar or wind generated or even from hydro or human power - can do so much more than power computers: it provides water, refrigeration, light, and more. Electrification is a key requirement, and in my estimation, for such regions, talk of OERs is a distraction.

2. The corollary to that is, that the design of a program regarding OERs should not be based on the needs of regions where other priorities - such as electrification - are significantly greater than the need for OERs. We may be told (by publishers?) to focus our efforts on non-digital technologies. This is a distraction and a distortion of the idea of open educational resources. Attempting to employ non-digital means to distribute OERs is significantly more expensive; this is why the idea of OERs really became feasible only with the advent of digital technologies.

3. After basic civic infrastructure, and after electricity, the next prior condition for OERs is a viewing and playing platform. It is clear that significant advances have been made here in the last few years, catalyzed by such projects as the Simputer and the One Laptop Per Child, and ultimately made possible by flash memory, lo wattage CPUs, and advanced display technology. The availability of low-cost computing greatly increases access to digital materials, and projects that increase such access (microloans for the purchase of a netbook, for example) should be contemplated. While mobile phones are touted as a viable platform, this should be regarded with some caution: data rates on mobile phones are very high, displays and computing capacity are minimal, and mobile phones are closed systems (the telco retains control over the platform (the hardware and operating system)).

4. Given access to suitable platforms, the next major requirement is typically construed as access to open educational resources themselves. As backbone connectivity is often prohibitively expensive, we often hear proposals for the encoding of content onto flash memory and DVD for distribution and possibly sale. While access to materials is desirable, and should be promoted, this misconstrues the need. Just as a telephone system is valuable for the conversations it can carry, so also a computer network is valuable for the communications it sustains. It is not a substitute for lack of telephone connectivity to simply record some telephone conversations and distribute them to recipients. The next requirement after computation, therefore, is not content, it is connectivity.

5. Where possible, computers should be deployed in clusters and network connectivity established. Even if backbone connectivity to the internet cannot be sustained (because of cost and availability) local connectivity can be used to share communications and resources. Wireless mesh networks, wider area WiMax network, and regional iBurst networks, are all either viable or soon to be viable technologies. With such networks, the physical distribution of resources (ie., content on flash memory or DVD) can focus on single nodes, to be propagated as needed from there via the local network.

6. The production of open educational resources ought to be thought of as a community process, with the distribution of these resources established through a process of sharing rather than giving or sales. When the various considerations regarding the sustainability of OERs are taken into account, as I do here http://www.downes.ca/post/33401 then it seems clear that, unless the creation and management of OERs is community-based, the result will be a requirement for a significant overhead. When we think of OERs as something that are given, then we are inclined to channel resources to the givers, in order to sustain the giving. The givers, however, are typically those least in need of resources: it is no coincidence that the givers are large institutions such as MIT, Stanford, and Open University. But it is a misapplication of funds to channel resources to such large institutions, the entities in the value chain least in need of additional subsidy and support.

7. Models and instances of knowledge creation and sharing ought to be instantiated and propagated. The recent effort by the Indian government http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=47343 to document and share traditional and regional knowledge is an excellent case in point. Such initiatives depict the creation of OER programs not merely as the passive recipients of knowledge, but as active creators and sharers of knowledge. An OER training package is proposed, not so much on the receipt and use of OERs, but rather, on the creation and distribution of OERs. As people begin to create and share their own knowledge, they begin to see the value and insight in others'.

In summary:

  • the key is to focus on connectivity, not content
  • low-cost 'netbook' computers are encouraged, with an emphasis on local connectivity
  • resources should not be directed toward 'givers', as they are the entities least in need of support
  • resources should be directed toward helping intended 'recipients' share their own knowledge

I hope this is useful.

[edit] 3.1 Tom Caswell

After an offline conversation with Bjoern, I think it important that we view connectivity as an evolution and not a binary concept. (Stephen makes good points about an even larger hierarchy of needs, and we must first understand where OER fits within that hierarchy so we are not getting in the way.) Even as today's developing communities find ways to connect better, there will be others who begin the process tomorrow with the same bandwidth problems. Northern institutions often develop OER content without considering how bandwidth limitations affect others. For example, is more than 32 kb/s really necessary for an audio lecture? While the size of the pipe is almost always identified as the limitation to be overcome, we should turn the problem around and think about what we are trying to put in the pipe. Content can also be developed and organized more effectively so it can be delivered to low-bandwidth areas. Bjoern's video-audio-text cascade is one way to accommodate a wider range of bandwidth realities without eliminating rich media content for those who are able to consume it. These preferences could easily be set up in a user profile. And while mobile phones may not provide the same amount of content, they can be yet another view of an OER repository. A local copy? Yet another view...

[edit] 3.2 Tom Abeles

I think we can combine some of my examples with the cogent narrative of Stephen's and ask a few more questions:

  1. What is the impact of the penetration of ICT's into developing countries/communities with regards to culture and to what some have labeled e-colonialism
  2. There is an implicit or tacit assumption that knowledge is good in the optimum sense and neutral in the worst case scenario- the idea of just getting OER into the communities is a focus and not what OER- in other words get the knowledge IV implanted and we can be concerned about what is put into the IV later.

Think about it from a marketing perspective. who is the client (who pays the bill)/ At this point, my sense is that the unspoken assumption is that it will be funds external to the community. These funders are the ones who have to be convinced that the solutions being proposed here are the right course and the solution. The discussion, here, is like a play being performed before an audience consisting of funders such as the UN, WB, regional development banks, foundations, governments and others who write checks.

As Stephen has eloquently stated, and examples that I have posted show, given control over the resources, primarily fiscal, but tech also, the community may have other priorities. So, we don't know whether the community will say, "hey, it's your money, bring your technologies into town". Or there will be another reaction. Another story from a colleague: An aid worker asked whether the community was concerned about the presence of so many NGO's. The native replied that these workers come, spend money in town and when the money is gone the workers leave and the community waits for the next round.and more money. At one time it was stated that funds from USAID, at the level of 90%+ flowed through the countries and back to the US.

What is important, as many are now finding out, is that there are ways to approach the introduction of "products" and services that are sustainable. This appears to be true with regards to ICT's and education. Too many have the standard model of government supported, or foundation supported introduction and support of education without considering the model in a systemic fashion.

Maybe it is time to shift the focus from the technology, whether it is e-Granary or Moodle, or. . and packaged knowledge whether OER, free, or fee, and looked carefully on a community basis as to how the community chooses and gains control over their long term potential for sustainability

[edit] 3.3 Moyomola Bolarin

Dear Stephen, Your thoughts on solutions raised many questions within me, one of which I can only express now. To begin with, in your summary, you think “the key is to focus on connectivity, not content”

My question: Will there be a need for connectivity where there are no content to connect? In which case availability of “content” is the driving force for “connectivity.” In developed countries content is not an issue because the information highway is already in place. In developing countries, your approach will have to be different.

You have to analyze your target community, if you are targeting communities as in Lagos or Abuja in Nigeria for example, connectivity will be the key focus as you beleive. But if you want to follow me to my village, you and I will have to talk more seriously in practical and sustainability terms.

Let us say you have enough fund to connect my community to broadband internet access, we will welcome you but the next question is for how long would you support that, and let say you are capable of doing it for five years at no cost to the community, after five years what happen to the connectivity.

Again, let us assume that in Lagos and Abuja, the running cost of connectivity per month is US$500 there will be no problem because there are numbers of middle to high income earners to share the cost which may bring the cost per user to about US$20 or less per month which is the current practises where many providers are already in competition.

In my village, we also need the connection to the information highway as much as users in Lagos and Abuja but you have to understand that majority of the community dwellers leave on less than US$2 a day or US$60 a month. Therefore, paying US$20 a month from the US$60 is not going to be sustainable to your focus on connectivity. At that point we have to begin talking about other options, which we include prioritizing the community information needs. And that will bring us back to content issue and analyses of the community pressing information needs which will include the needs of the schools (teachers and students), heath care center, farmers cooperative society, and road transporters union.

In this country where I am currently resident, in the most remote community, no electricity, the number of satellite dishes you will see when you enter some villages that enable homes to receive free-to-air satellite TV channels are astonishing. Even, the Bedouins who move from rangeland to rangelands have mobile phones, satellite dishes, receivers and small generators to enjoy satellite TV channels but no internet. This shows that poor rural communities also like to be connected with the rest of the world where there is little or no runing cost.

At this point, let me leave it to you as food FOR further thoughts, and we go back to Lagos or Abuja to enjoy our broadband connectivity

And since this discussion forum is closing, I like to thank everyone for your interest in reaching the unreached in the developing countries.

Looking forward to joining you again in similar forum in the nearest future.

[edit] 3.4 Aprasad

Dear Moyo,

I also share your concerns and you have said it correctly. Definitely we require different strategies for different parts of the globe in accordance with local situations.

I think in Lagos and Abuja and many other parts of the world collaborative efforts to build sustainable solutions for connectivity are required.

In the case of developing countries we can think about information kiosk models. That is establishing a few information kiosks (access centers) in each village by converging funds from different agencies. To begin with such centres can be established by forming Self Help Groups in the villages. Once connectivity is stabilized, it can be converted to microfinance enterprises that can handle a wide range of services for moderate service charges like:

  • Accredited Training Centre for online open education.
  • outlet of e-service delivery for many governmental and nongovernmental agencies
  • Internet browsing.
  • DTP work etc etc.

Akshaya (http://www.akshaya.net/) project in Kerala State of India is a success model in this regard.

[edit] 3.5 Stephen Downes

I would like to respond to Moyomola's comment,

Bolarin, Moyomola (ICARDA) wrote:

Quote image Dear Stephen,

Your thoughts on solutions raised many questions within me, one of which I can only express now. To begin with, in your summary, you think “the key is to focus on connectivity, not content”

My question: Will there be a need for connectivity where there are no content to connect? In which case availability of “content” is the driving force for “connectivity.”

Again, as I stated earlier, in small villages where there is no electricity, the priority may be to provide electricity, not OERs.

That said, it must be stressed, by 'connectivity' I do not mean broadband access to the rest of the world. As I tried to emphasize in my previous post, what I meant most especially was connectivity with each other. This can be accomplished without paying any internet access fees, if the computers are equipped with wireless mesh network capacity.

You ask, "will there be a need for connectivity where there are no content?" That is like asking, "will there be a need for a telephone service without pre-recorded messages?" It is to mistake the internet as a content-access system, when in reality it is a communications system. The internet is much more than merely a means of receiving content.

If people are connected, they will produce their own content. If they have a means to create, to communicate, to record, share and save, they will create their own knowledge and share this knowledge. We know this because this is what has happened in all other areas that have received the internet. In classrooms, in businesses, in homes, people are sending messages back and forth, creating accounts on social networks, uploading photos and videos, writing poems, creating software, and so much more.

Now this does not mean that there should be utterly no content, and utterly no connectivity. I believe that it would be useful to have a computer in local networks that contains a library of content - a copy of wikipedia, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Open University courses, Flickr photo libraries, WikiEducator courses, maybe even my own website (heh). Content that would be selected and downloaded or brought in on Flash memory or DVD, once, for the whole community, after discussion of the matter.

But even this content is much less useful without community connectivity. There is a big difference between reading something all by yourself, and reading it as a part of a group and creating and sharing things based on it. Indeed, the need for content is generated by community and communication. The ability to use content is created through community and communication.

Finally, community and connectivity, unlike mere content only, are a means of generating value and wealth for a community. By capturing and creating its own knowledge, a community is creating something of value. Whether or not this value can be monetized, what is important is that the members of the community are not merely passive recipients of their learning, but also actual creators of that learning. By developing this capacity, they become able to take part in online commerce, first among themselves, and then with the rest of the world.

Moyomola, I have never been to your village (but I would love to visit one day - does it have a website?). But I have been in communities large and small, in South Africa and Lesotho, in Colombia, in Malaysia. What I see is not simply a desire to read stuff and to watch TV, but to create and share. As soon as people see what can be done with this technology, very simply and very cheaply, their faces light up and they want to begin to create. And they don't stop.

-- Stephen

p.s. I would like to add two remarks, to add some context for the rest of the discussion members.

First, I would like to make the observation that, insofar as there is a need for content, as described above, the content already exists or can continue to be developed through voluntary (community-based) effort. The same is the case for software, with organizations developing packages of free community applications for learning communities. http://k12ltsp.org for example. These are available for free; there should be no need to purchase commercial packages.

Second, where expenditures are required, it seems to me, it would be much more appropriate that they occur in recipient countries rather than donor countries. For example, suppose it were determined that there were a need to create copies of DVDs to distribute community applications and contents. Then, blank DVDs should be purchased from local vendors and local staff hired to create copies. Additionally, if it were determined that certain network infrastructure were needed to create community mesh networks. Then, an enterprise should be established in a recipient country to manufacture and distribute these components. To reiterate the wider point: it just seems wrong to me to see the bulk of money intended for world development end up in the pockets of people and agencies based in North America and Europe.

[edit] 4 Bjoern on: Understanding the need

We're now in the third week of our discussion: At lot of issues have been raised and catalogued in earlier weeks, possible solutions have been put forward, and based on this we have brought together some proposals.

Of course, there is always the need to do more. But at the same time, there are a lot of existing OERs, and lot of existing initiatives.

So for instance, let's look at the proposal for the OER exchange infrastructure (specifically tailored to regions with poor connectivitiy): Access2OER:OER exchange and also Access2OER:OER exchange cartoon

Let's ask the question whether there is a need to address these issues specifically? Are these issues just taken care off by the existing infrastructure? Would they just resolve themselves over the next few years?

I'd be grateful for everybody's comments!

My own view is this: Earlier in the discussion Philipp raised that we were focussing too much on "N->S" barriers, and that we should also consider "S->N" and "S->S" barriers.

Let me be provocative, take an extreme point of view, and argue that much of the general access discussion often focusses on access barriers "North->North". This of course does include many of the barriers in the our barrier classification, and these issues are also a barrier in a global context. And I don't want to give the impression that these are unimportant: Those issues are crucial.

But in the "N->S" and "S->S" context, there are additional barriers that we do not have in the "N->N" context. The in the N->N context, we have them to a far lesser extent: the relative importance of the barriers may be different, and some of those "more southern" barriers may currently outweigh other barriers (in the south). Indeed, I would argue that in the present UNESCO discussion, particularly "N->S" and "S->S" barriers (such as the digital divide and bandwidth) featured very highly. Compare for instance the amount of comments on the various issues here: Access2OER:Issues#Access_in_terms_of_internet_connectivity_.2F_bandwidth

Moreover, where digital divide and bandwidth issues are discussed, often those issues are seen purely in terms of infrastructure, particularly physical "network pipe size". What is neglected is that the pipe size is only part of the issue: There are important considerations in terms of formatting the content, network management, user policities, caching, etc. that would make a huge difference (even with current pipe sizes). Of course, one could argue that some of this is generic, and doesn't pertain specifically to OER. However, there are issues (such as formatting the content) where it becomes a specific OER issue. Also, one could argue that an effective, global OER community needs to take current barriers into account (disregardless of whether they are specifically to do with OER or not), and do as best as we can (within our limits) to address these issues.

So, do you agree? Do you disagree?

[edit] 5 Understanding the need

[edit] 5.1 Cliff Missen

I've read through most of the posts, though, and would like to add two concepts that I think would be pertinent: the extensibility of off-line information delivery (like the eGranary, but not necessarily) and the issues of scale.

[edit] 5.1.1 OFF-LINE DELIVERY OF INFORMATION

Whether we're talking about a community-wide free wireless public library that beams stored external content and locally generated materials to thousands of patrons on LANs around a city (leveraging IP-enabled devices owned by organizations and individuals) or tiny flash memory chips slipped into cell phones, laptops, and solar-charged handheld devices, I expect that off-line information storage will prove a powerful component in any information delivery strategy in the developing world.

How we merge the best of services (like Web 2.0), full-time or intermittent Internet, and off-line storage is the core question for information delivery in the coming years.

But, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, "It's not enough to be good, we must be good for something." So I agree with those who ask, what impact do we expect to have with this technology? What are the "deliverables?"

What of visionary things, like my friends in Ghana who want to create a wireless open university that allows anyone in their two towns with a network connection to attend? Or the idea that tomorrow's children will be born under an invisible canopy of information that will be ubiquitously accessible via numerous devices, including every television? Or national certificate programs for education on all levels? Or entire libraries with 12 years of core curriculum and multimedia study resources being distributed on a $30 pocket device?

What of clinicians in the field with a multi-million resource library in their pocket, looking up dosages, playing local language educational videos for their patients, taking CME quizzes, and using multiple messaging tools that are synched whenever they can connect? (I imagine a physician handing her device to her nephew who is heading into town and instructing him to turn it on outside the library -- where the wireless network awaits -- and then stand there until the 'updated' light turns green...)

Or how about a teacher attaching his pocket library to a tiny battery powered projector and leading his kids through group reading exercises as the words scoll slowly by on the wall?

These kinds of scenarios are where the rubber hits the road. Much of this is unimaginable without OER, but the mountain beyond this mountain is delivery in a highly impactful, locally relevant way.

[edit] 5.1.2 ISSUES OF SCALE

In my humble estimation, in the developing world context OERs are "all dressed up with nowhere to go." They offer enormous opportunities for the bulk of the human population that thirsts for new knowledge. But getting the right information into the right person's hands at the right time remains a mind-boggling challenge.

Over the last ten years, we have seen hundreds of demonstration projects that deliver a clutch of computers and a smattering of Internet connectivity to a handful of people. This is nice, but having seen computers sent to Mars and Internet connectivity delivered to the Amazon and Antarctica, we knew all of this was possible. Now need to stretch ourselves to scale computer access, information access, and IT skills to the billions of people -- health care practitioners, students, policy makers, entrepreneurs -- in the majority of the world.

Three problems of scaling IT to meet the information needs of institutions in the developing world:

  1. Face Time: if people are to learn from computers, they need to spend 10-15 hours a week in front of a computer. This requires not hundreds, but thousands of computers inside and around some institutions. Deploying new computers in massive quantities is prohibitively expensive for most institutions. Where there is electircity, adding thousands of refurbished computers to the mix dramatically reduces deployment costs, reduces risk and security concerns, and makes it possible to serve populations who otherwise would not be prioritized. Adding handheld devices makes it more affordable. Leveraging devices people already own -- or are willing to purchase to particpate -- is the best.
  2. Information Access: as we know it, Internet connectivity simply does not scale nicely. Once hundreds or thousands of devices are connected to a local area network, providing them with adequate Internet access can cost millions of dollars a year. Deploying an eGranary costs less than 2% of a 1mbit Internet connection. As well, while no one would consider sharing their Internet connection for free with people in the surrounding community, a single eGranary Digital Library can be widely shared with thousands of patrons without costing a penny more. This gives organizations the capacity to provide all their patrons with fast, reliable access to millions of educational resources -- including a virtually unlimited amount of local content -- and then worry separately about the few people who actually need the Internet for time-critical research or collaboration.
  3. Human Capacity: Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) research shows that the most expensive parts of any ICT enterprise are staffing (30%) and training (30%). By employing young people, especially students, in the process of deploying and supporting ICT we tap a potent human resource for the community while giving students essential skills that will make them more employable upon graduation -- injecting critical skill sets into the wider community. In places where the WiderNet Project has helped to build student apprenticeship and intern programs, the participating students consistently find employment -- sometimes before they even graduate! Any visionary program involving ICT needs to involve young people in a manner that is typically unheard of in most developing countries.


[edit] 5.1.3 THE IMPERATIVE

Every minute of every day, dozens of people around the developing world die for a simple lack of information.

Whether it is information about avoiding mosquitoes that carry malaria, hand washing, food storage, simple home remedies for diarrhea, effective ways to increase crop yield, or ideas about the wider world that reduce paranoia and confusion, billions of people in this world are starving for information and new ideas.

The world’s wealthier individuals can turn to humankind’s greatest knowledge repository, the Internet… but 7 out of 8 people in this world, those with the greatest need for information and education, cannot.

This is our challenge...

[edit] 5.2 Douglas Tedford

Research is showing us that a combination of face-to-face and online instruction is the best approach to distance learning, particularly in world regions where Internet access is low due to comparative buying power.

And, as described in Cliff's post, offline software can be very useful. However, it is not realistic to address online access as an unnecessary, when in fact as knowledge is morphing moment to moment the value and essential nature of using the Internet to get and produce information must be taught, creating a new digital culture within the lowest income groups in the developing world.

[edit] 5.3 Cliff Missen

Good points.

I didn't mean to convey that online access was unnecessary, although I see how I didn't make it clear enough.

I think online access should be seen as ONE of a number of options for delivering information to the world's poor. I've been pushed these last few years to make finer and finer distinctions. What I've learned is that a wealth of information we use on a daily basis (outside of popular culture and "news") can be delivered asynchonously. (I for example, teach courses using -- ulp! -- five-year-old textbooks.) And I've learned that the bulk of most people's personal communication needs are, indeed, local. (Witness the cell phone revolution, where the bulk of the communication taking place is extremely local...)

Adopting a hybrid strategy puts information seekers in a more powerful position: they can casually use low-cost local information and communication tools, then selectively decide when to spend their precious resources on real-time connectivity.

None of this should distract us from the ultimate goal: adequate Internet bandwidth for all. Creating local area networks and growing the availabilty of computing devices needs to happen anyway, no matter the connectivity model. Adding off-line storage is a nominal cost and it handily converts into a bandwidth conservation tool when Internet connectivity does come along.

The newest Granary includes Moodle, Drupal, MySQL, and a host of free software for creating Web sites and social networking tools. So it's already primed for distance learning... but those distances may be the campus, the neighborhood, or anyone connected to the local Internet Service Provider. A private hospital in Malawi that has an eGranary recently reported that they had cooperated with a neighboring medical school to install a fiber optic cable between them so they could share the eGranary and other teaching resources. The distance is only a kilometer, but learning is taking place.

I visit campuses all over Africa and India where technicians are deploying similar tools within their domains to build the moment-to-moment morphing digital culture you aptly identify.

And this is something I'm very passionate about: providing patrons with affordable tools to digitize and share their own stories.

In past years I've taught a course simultaneously at an African university and my university. My colleague and I teach in our respective classrooms. My students have the Internet and his students have the eGranary. All of the course materials are on both systems, along with hundreds of thousands of topical resources. My students make Web pages and his students make Web pages and we update each other's copies when necessary. All of the students are subscribed to an email listserv. The only time we need real-time connectivity is when we're participating in threaded discussions, and we're working to change that. If they had a little more reliable connectivity, we'd meet monthly in an Elluminate session.

This isn't exactly off-line education. We're using Internet connectivity, but judiciously, so as to reduce the costs for our African partners.

The effects on my students are still as profound as if they were communicating in real time. We experience the same cultural conundrums, the same amount of misunderstanding, and the same amount of understanding. And we all grow from the dramatically different perspectives. (Imagine my students' puzzlement when they were heartily greeted "in the name our Holy Savior..." in one early email!)

What I'm trying to convey is this: with a little connectivity and a lot of creativity, we can do marvelous things.

And we must not underestimate our friends' capacity to have a rolicking good time in their own digital world, even if we're not there to play a part!

[edit] 6 Tom Abeles

1) When I need information, I usually contact a trusted colleague as a first cut. That may give me a satisfactory answer or narrow my search of the literature on or off the internet. This seems to be a standard mode of operation in business. And in technical areas like auto mechanics or health care. There have been examples on this list in the health care area and it is common where trusted persons rank above what may be in a book, particularly if it is a time-critical issue as with health. Trust is a key element whether the person might be a local healer or a western medicine practioner.

It even works in a highly database driven community like universities. As with examples on this list, we have to take into consideration the cultural issues. John Seely Brown's classic book The Social Life of Information sets an interesting base line.

2) Information has a half-life. Cliff's approach with e-Granary, meets a need for long half life materials, particularly if the database is tailored to the needs of the user(s). Google searches on the internet need to be fast because they have to separate the wheat from the chaff and also prioritize it based on a search and sort methodology. Searches are getting better even though the database is growing exponentially. Who knows what key piece may be overlooked or serendipitously discovered.

Again, we have still not divorced ourselves from the social nature of information as people on the net start to share links, key words and similar spores to information which others might find useful or critical

3) It is amazing how need crosses language barriers and even knowledge barriers, often with the help of colleagues. The often cited example of access to market information for farmers, e.g. coffee in Latin America or grains in Asia. And it is amazing how resourceful people can be. A foreign aid worker reports shippers plying the rivers in canoes have been found sitting in trees to get a cell phone signal. In some countries where people live on a few dollars/month there is as much as an 80% penetration of pre-paid cell phones (people to people)

We have to make sure that we are not transferring our current brick-space models into click space, both with regards to education and practice. And we need to particularly think differently about data/information/knowledge connection.

Elsewhere on the internet there is a conversation regarding the neo-liberal approach of the developed world to the developing world, particularly with regards to information access. In passing there was a note that UNESCO has a relationship with Microsoft and the question was raised as to whether this might be another "Coca Cola" moment.


[edit] 7 SuperOER and $1 per use

[edit] 7.1 Bjoern wrote earlier in the discussion

Quote image On Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:16 AM, Bjoern Hassler <bjoern@caret.cam.ac.uk> wrote:

Dear all,

Thank you for all your contributions, and I hope that everybody is enjoying the discussion as much as I am! Please keep sending your comments and contributions! Also, keep posting issues as you think of them, and do continue to contribute to the discussion around possible classifications of those issues.

Today I would like to invite you to describe the "qualities" of a "super-accessible" OER. What does the "ultimate" OER look like in terms of accessibility? You don't have to be realistic, let's just ask "What if?", and come up with some ambitious ideas!

I'll make a start:

      Poverty has been raised as an important issue,
      so my super-accessible OER has a financial incentive:
      Every time you access it, you get $1.

Thinking about the super-accessible OER in this way is of course just a variation on the present discussion, but I hope it will give us some additional perspectives, make sure that our list of issues is complete, as well as lead onto the solutions discussion next week!

So - fingers on the reply button ... and .... go!

[edit] 7.2 Douglas Tedford

My idea is to provide "points" for each minute spent in a designated online class. This is similar to travel points accumulating when flying. Students are apprised of what they can exchange for increments of points accumulated.

Caveats: must have a system in place to assure each student is who they identify themselves to be, must be in only predesignated settings with memorandum understanding- both to avoid abuse of a potentially rewarding system of exchange

...

I would like to implement this concept in a course platform volunteers are setting up within a Central American foundation's website. Not knowing technology, could someone volunteer to assist on this project? Rewarding experiences ahead...

[edit] 8 Bjoern on "What if"

Dear all,

[In a thread above] On 27 Mar 2009, at 17:19, Theo Lynn wrote:

Quote image To some extent, this email list has been useful as it is creating a language of discussion but there is still some dissonance. Until we are all speaking the same language, I fear we will continue in the same direction but not necessarily together and possible wasting precious resources on multiple silos of disconnected activity.

We should consider that one of the aims of the discussion was to identify feasible proposals. To develop a feasible proposal, there needs to be some agreement on what can be done.

Let me ask a 'What if' question: What if any computer you bought (be it a netbook, desktop, server, or even just a harddrive/stick) could come preloaded with a free content collection? When you place the order, you choose from a large catalogue of OER/OCW/free content, and it comes preloaded on the computer, no further connectivity needed. However, when and where you have connectivity, your chosen content can automatically be updated and extended. (And content collections can be freely transferred and shared, installed from the net etc.)

What if it any computer could also be pre-ordered with a free content production suite? Not just OpenOffice, but a few other key applications as well, for instance enabling podcasting with audacity, enabling course development with moodle and educommons, plus a set of training materials?

What if the content content you create can then be contributed back to the global community, even where there is little or no connectivity?

Is this a vision to which many of you would support (particularly in places with poor connectivity)? Would this vision have sufficiently high priority within your current working environments, because you would derive substantial benefit from it?

Some of these ideas are just providing an example for what could be done with an OER delivery network, the wiki page is here: Access2OER:OER exchange.

Quote image If we are the sheep, who is the shepherd?

I guess we would be digital Web-2.0 self-organising sheep ... :-)

But more seriously: If there is sufficient support for a particular proposal, if there are certain ideas that make sense and would have an impact, then we should continue to develop the proposals, and start steering developments in those directions.

As the present discussion draws to a close over the next week or so, we'll be setting up another UNESCO mailing list to continue developing the present proposals. If you are interested in participating beyond the present discussion, then please contact Catriona Savage so that you can be added to the new mailing list.

Bjoern

[edit] 8.1 Givemore Dube

"What if "

Such an approach would be suitable for the local context (Zimbabwe). I would like to picture it as an extension of the OER exchange cartoon presentation, where at the local level those users with offline content can free exchange among themselves across devices and across platforms without any hindrance and anyone connecting back to the network can have all the new content uploaded/downloaded.

Learners are already using this exchange mode to transfer mp3s, ring tones e.t.c, what is needed is to add educational content.

[edit] 8.2 Bjoern: Another picture for the cartoon

Thanks for the comments. I've added another picture to the cartoon, see Access2OER:OER exchange cartoon#Peer_to_peer_sharing_of_offline_content which has fully peer to peer sharing of content, without central infrastructure.

One could imagine a content directory in "SuperMiro" that lists all content, and next to each piece has "peer to peer" sharing information next to each item:

  • "content downloaded already and availalble on your SuperMiro"
  • "content available on your current network and can be downloaded (estimated time ...)"
  • "content not available on your current network"

[edit] 8.3 User:C.L.Hansen

Your 'what if' has a practical, solution-oriented focus which I support.

One of the elements fading from the wiki is the 'contributing back' element of the Open Community. That is what makes it alive, and what makes it different and a frustration for commercial solutions.

I also find that there is a division between what the OER community seems to think is available, and what is already available, and what is in Beta, in the development community. Some is telecom, some software. Ericsson has been building towers in designated African countries, for example, since 1996. Connectivity is not an issue, nor is the advancements with batteries, sun, generators, etc.

With virtualization, even a country with a small budget may create a respectable broadband network.

Therefore I add another 'what if': What if all OER projects carried a tag--not even an index--and when the tag was called, whether the site was development, commercial software, a university, a government, all the tagged sites would list.

[edit] 8.4 Bjoern: Connectivity, broadband and mobile

Hi Christine, hi all,

I just wanted to offer some thoughts around connectivity, particularly in Africa where myself (and organisations I've worked with most closely) have got the most expertise.

Let me start with an example. At a recent ICT training event in Zambia, we used BGAN satellite connectivity. All you need is a small box, that fits into a briefcase, and you're connected, portable, world-wide. However, this costs about $7 per MB. To put this into perspective, that's about $2 - $5 per click on a typical website, so finding and downloading a single OER (a bit of web browsing, download a zip file) would cost you say between $25 to $50 (USD). (One may want to compare that to your domestic broadband connection if you have one.) So connectivity isn't the issue, the issue is cost of that connectivity.

Of course using a BGAN is the most expensive you can get, and there other options, such as fixed satellite installation (e.g. VSAT). Let me talk about infrastructure/broadband, and then mobile connectivity.

(1) BROADBAND. There are two aspects relating to broadband connectivity: One is international connectivity, with developing countries lacking a wired infrastructure, and cost of satellite connections being several 1000 USD per Mb/s per month. The second issue is "last mile delivery", i.e. the national connectivity if you like, the cost of which is typically similar to the international connectivity. So you either bring satellite down centrally and you have to bear the cost of last mile delivery (but also get a nation-wide broadband network), or you have a local satellite installation, and you just pay the full cost of satellite (but do not get a national broadband network). I had a long chat with Mark Bennet from Africonnect the other day, who provide innovative solutions in Zambia and elsewhere in Africa. It is genuinely hard to make longer term predictions, but the best estimate is that, while some reduction in cost is expected over the next few years, the cost will become nowhere near as cheap as the cost of connectivity in the North in the foreseeable future.

So in absolute terms, connectivity (say for Africa and other regions connected via satellite) is much more expensive than connectivity in the "wired" North, and while there will be improvements, is nevertheless likely to remain much more expensive for the foreseeable future. (This does take new fibre and new satellites into account.) One used to hear the claim "soon we'll all have infinite bandwidth at no cost", but often this is based on the experience of the broadband explosion in the North, which leverages our copper infrastructure via technologies like ADSL. (Africa does not have this infrastructure.)

However, there is an additional factor: Rather than looking at cost of connectivity in absolute terms, really one should look at the cost of connectivity related to some economic measure, such as mean income, which of course only exacerbates the disparity. There are some good diagrams on http://www.aptivate.org/webguidelines/Why.html that show global distribution of internet bandwidth per internet user, and cost of internet access as percentage of mean income.

We should also bear in mind that for every region that is connected now (and will see some improvement over the next few years) there are other regions that are disconnected at the moment, and will only gradually move into minimal provision over the next few years, before they move to better connectivity.

(2) MOBILE. So what about mobile connectivity? Aren't all the mobile phones connected to the internet? The data transfer for mobile browsing still has to get in and out of the country, so ultimately (in many regions) has to rely on satellite. The reason why it's cheaper to the end user is because it's slow. Coming back to the training event in Zambia, there was a mobile mast right next to where we were, and most of the time, there was GPRS connectivity. This was not too expensive, but it was very slow (20kb/s). It was usable on a mobile device, which has optimised applications (such as google mail for mobile, and opera mini). However, if you tried the same connectivity on a netbook/laptop with standard browsers and webmail, it was painstakingly slow indeed.

So does 20kb/s mean that you are well connected? Basically that depends on how well you are using this connection. How do you improve? There are two options: More bandwidth, or smarter use of the connection.

Let's apply this to OER, and suppose you wanted to get OER into poorly connected regions. You could take two approaches: One is the broadband satellite approach, and to get somebody to foot the bill. As outlined, this is expensive indeed, and (probably) relies on donor funding (external to the relevant local economies). Of course, if there was a donor who'd like to provide 'free internet across the world', then all the better, but I think it's quite improbable.

However, there is another approach, which is the "mobile" approach of using optimised applications, and optimised resources. In essence, that's to say: Make the resources fit through smaller (but already existing) pipes. For OER, this is our "OER exchange infrastructure" proposal. It has an advantage over the "satellite broadband" approach, which is that it can be implemented by the OER community (providers and consumers) primarily with local effort, and without having to rely on external factors (such as sustained donor payment for satellite broadband).

I hope this provides a coherent summary of connectivity issues, and why I think an "OER exchange infrastructure" proposal makes sense!

All the best, Bjoern


[edit] 9 Nadia El Borai

Thank you all for very interesting points of view. I receive the daily digest and it seems like some email are repeated and it is difficult to read. Could we maybe have some rule not to have it so muddled in the future?

I have deleted all the messages before posting my reply.

Regarding internet connections this is not a problem in Japan. There are many Universities, public and private and all get some funding from the government. The problem now is there are many institutions but the student population has decreased. Therefore they are competing for students. Some universities here have OCW and you can check what is actually made available.

Considering the number of courses and lectures teachers etc. it seems that maybe staff members are not adding anything because of the following. From my point of view the issue is not lack of material it is more that it is lack of awareness or internal politics. If the head of the department encourages it, then things would move but not otherwise.

This is what will happen once connectivity issues will be solved in other countries. What works: 1) Discussion groups like this one. 2) Training and help for teachers to be able to put their material online like wikieducator. I took the course twice and it was very helpful. 3) More awareness, many people I have talked to are not aware of OER, students and faculty members alike. (I was unaware of it until I found out from this group that the University I was in had OCW!)

Thank you all for helping to learn a lot. Sincerely, Nadia

[edit] 10 Theo Lynn

Hi Douglas

If the commercial organisations gave back to the community, for example if they agreed to make legacy content (images, video etc) free to education or possibly even under CC, would you accept them as part of the community? It seems to me many of the users of OER do not "give back" and yet they are still considered part of the community. Is there no room for commercial parties?

[edit] 11 Tom Abeles

I believe the picture is starting to clear, a little

1) Time or the half-life of documents is a critical issue that has appeared immersed in several recent threads. Most OER materials when considered as education materials are not very time sensitive. Even much in journal articles that appear in databases are not time sensitive. Time sensitive information appears on the web for those who really need it. That means that databases of educational material do not have to be in what is now being called the "cloud" out on the internet some place. They can appear in systems like Cliff's e-Granary customized for particular needs and end users. This means that there is little need for some universalized front end but only the need to convert at a particular site or sites which becomes a local problem and not one that needs to be solved for some universal OER data base. After all Esperanto as a universal language has failed and even the UN reverts to muiltiple translations, simultaneously on top of it.

We are trying to hard when we want to make all OER conform to a format and then have a universal tool for making all accessible to all via some universal tool. As an example, Guatemala is a Spanish speaking country, yet there are over 20 indigenous languages with strong preservation sensibilities and where many do not speak Spanish, let alone English. There are religious organizations that work, globally, customizing knowledge into local languages. Working at the global level becomes more of an academic exercise than one of practicality when the speed of translation of long half-life knowledge is not critical.

2) Place- Many years ago Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), in addition to inventing devices like the mouse, developed what was called the "Dynabook" which was an electronic device to hold student lessons at low cost and high portability. We see this most visibly in Amazon.com's "Kindle" an electronic book reader which can download via wireless connection books made available through Amazon. That device and others like it don't necessarily have to use connectivity for down loads but could be easily upgraded by plugging in a small memory stick which can now come with several gigabites of storage. In other words, OER materials can be distributed to remote regions and to education centers from a device on a key ring. One doesn't need OLPC's or other computational devices to access OER. Only a simple book reader. Yes, these "readers" can be upgraded to have other capabilities but that is not what OER is about.

3) In India there was a very simple experiment where small multilanguage computers were left accessible to kids to play with. Very quickly street kids found out how to use these devices. Marc Prensky in a seminal article in On the Horizon, http://www.emeraldinsight.com/oth.htm defined the terms digital natives and digital immigrants. These were, originally, conceived as age divided cohorts with youth being the digital natives. One must remember that they devices were not created by these youths, so the idea is more of a "digital" divide not dependent on age. What this basically says is that as these devices, whether the Kindle, or a portable computer/cell phone evolve they become more intutitive and easier for "newbies" to navigate. Thus, spending a lot of energy to try to build training programs in an internet age is mapping brick space thinking into click space.

We don't know what the next round of technology will present; but we do know that portable media and computation are here. It has been a very short time from cell phones the size of a brief case to a "smart phone" which lets you shake it and hear and see dice roll on the screen in a gambling game. Disruptive innovation starts below the horizon- an idea that needs to be discussed here because it is shaping what we will have in OER and how it will be delivered, globally.

The options are here and need to be deployed because we can not come up with a solution that will not rapidly evolve. Technology has a short half-life while OER has a long-half life and we need to think more about the latter.

[edit] 12 Tagging resources (and recap of proposals)

[edit] 12.1 C.L.Hansen on 'tagging resources'

Adding a suggestion to the 'what if' scenario:

Quote image Therefore I add another 'what if': What if all OER projects carried a tag--not even an index--and when the tag was called, whether the site was development, commercial software, a university, a government, all the tagged sites would list.

[edit] 12.2 Douglas Tedford

Great idea!

[edit] 12.3 Geraldo Franco

Indeed, a great idea. Ones PC ought to have an elephantine memory, a murine sharpness and a feline speed. Why not get a regular zoo instead? Who is to choose which contents go in the cages? Now, if one would/could have a choice of area or discipline built in as subject matter to ultimate deliver, it could be less liable to have SPCA after you... Why not, instead, have chips of your choice with contents to befit circunstances... why not...?

[edit] 12.4 Bjoern on tagging

Dear Christine, Douglas, Geraldo,

Interesting thoughts about tagging. If you look for instance at the MIT OCW pages, there is some metadata embedded in the page, which could easily also contain tagging, for instance with regard to curriculum. Likewise, there could be a visible tag on the page, that links to related resources.

Much of this depends on having a tagging system with relevant curriculum categories, which of course differ between different educational systems. This is a "know problem", and for instance the Global Grid for Learning is trying to address this through a curriculum mapping project.

I'll add this suggestion to the OER infrastructure proposal! (i.e. Access2OER:OER exchange)

Regarding tagging pages:

[edit] 12.5 Theo Lynn

Global grid for learning is happy to participate in the proposal, to the extent it can.


[edit] 12.6 Tom Abeles

Hi Bjoern

Can you please explain more about this PROPOSAL [i.e. the OER infrastructure proposal, Access2OER:OER exchange ]

  • What is being "proposed"?
  • Who is making the "proposal"?
  • Who is/are the target funding sources? And who will receive any funding?
  • And is there underwriting, direct or indirect, for this effort currently and, if so, by whom and for whom?

[edit] 12.7 Bjoern

Thanks for raising this. There are currently three proposals:

The basic layout of the discussion was in three weeks, focussing on issues (week 1), solutions (week 2), and proposals (during this 3rd week of the discussion), and so the present wiki proposals are an attempt to systematise the discussion of this week. (The full discussion is also logged to the wiki.)

At the moment, much of what is on the wiki as "proposals" are really just very rough notes, perhaps blue prints for proposals. I suspect that the three proposals will be collapsed into a single or perhaps two separate proposals. You're all very welcome to edit the proposals (and other wiki pages), and contribute in that way also.

As the present discussion draws to a close over the next week or so, we'll be setting up another UNESCO mailing list to continue developing those blue prints into proper proposals. Those what are interested in participating beyond the present discussion, could indicate this to the present mailing list, or could contact Catriona Savage directly, so that you can be added to the new mailing list.

To come back to Tom's questions: the "what" and "who" of those future proposal is quite open, as are the funding sources and the beneficiaries. None of this is currently underwritten by a funder, but as we've seen from the posts to the mailing list, there are individuals and organisations that have expressed interest and support of this process.

My own view for proceeding with the proposals is to approach a funder for a planning grant. Why not just write a proposal anyway? The purpose of the planning grant would be to enable an emphasis on inclusive and participative progress, for instance ensuring significant participation from stakeholders in the developing world, who otherwise might not be able to participate. While we continue via email and voice conference, ideally we would also have a face-to-face meeting at some stage, ideally as part of an existing meeting. Perhaps eLearning Africa (27-29 May, Dakar) would provide a good opportunity ...

So - if you do think that the above proposals are worth discussing further, and you would like to be involved, please indicate this to the present mailing list, and we'll add you to the new mailing list for further discussion.

[edit] 12.8 Tom Abeles

Thanks for expanding on this. First, I am very interested in continuing the conversation and participating as this experience evolves, having been involved with this arena since the Apple II with 48k of memory and 300 baud modems (remember these) with only phone dial up created the first virtual communities and bulletin boards and FTP was the best we had for transmitting blocks of data.

I mention this because I believe that there are significant parties that need to be brought to the table in this discussion. This includes the business and enterprise communities such as those involved in microfinance/microfranchising (think grameen phone, for example). It is not only the economic/finance issues but the experience that shows that what may be really needed may not have to be the multi-dimensional/inclusive model.

From an academic perspective, sociology, anthropology, and other social science disciplines that have looked at the cultural issues need to be invited to the conversation. We need to remember that the education technology world is littered with skeletons of technology past and not so far past, either. The half-life of technology is short. Cultural change (political, social, economic,...) is slow changing and less sure in its path.

[edit] 13 Monterrey

[edit] 13.1 Patrick McAndrew

As with other people lots of things going on in the list and too little time to comment! But just to pick up on one point from Tom -

Quote image

On Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 4:49 PM, Tom Abeles wrote: For the purpose of this discussion, this list is a very crude example of possibilities. People exchange ideas with people, links to web sites and the entire social networking limited only by time and technology. Workshops are a paradigmatic example of traditional butts-in-seats thinking, especially when we are dealing with OER and other uses of ICT's for education. One moves people only when there are reasons beyond transmitting information which can be digitized and put up on the web. Thus, if there are lessons learned or to be learned in this arena, then we need to use that medium about which we wish to talk about. The growth of communities of practioners follows naturally and individuals have the opportunity to participate in the manner which best suits their capabilities and situations.

At the moment I am sitting in a Monterey hotel having taken about 20 hours to get here from Milton Keynes yesterday. I hope and expect that I will meet some other people from the list many of whom may have travelled even further to be here for the annual OER meeting organised by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. I am also in the process of kicking off the WFHF funded OLnet project to build up the research network around OER. In that we are very much trying to find the right combination of projects, events, fellowships and technology that help us all share ideas as well as resources. As a starting point we are encouraging parrallel streams around our face-to-face events using http://cloudworks.ac.uk/ so that what seem closed events can leak around the edges. We have tried this out for a couple of local UK events and now want to see how it will work for the Monterey events (both the main OER event and the local NROC). So if you are coming to Monterey do give your views throughout the conference, if you are not please watch along and hopefully we can build an experience that will both persist in time and also work at a distance.

Hope this is not too far off topic to fit with the strand - I guess it belongs with the OER Access proposal but less about the OER themselves and more about the communication and sharing of ideas and issues around the OER.

[edit] 13.2 Ann MacCann

Thank you, Patrick, for your vivid image! I have been skimming the email conference thus far with enormous interest but very little time.

I found the debate over whether internet was vital to be very interesting, given the difficulties some of the writers mentioned about accessing the internet, particularly dragging materials down - it takes so long with an inexpensive connection, and if you don't have the funding for this, then it's much simpler, as some of the writers have mentioned, to make the materials available (those that are not time-sensitive) in some other way, more cheaply by something like a usb drive.

I am fascinated that people are meeting face to face, and find that oddly comforting - I believe that there is no substitute for interaction, whether by chat, forum or face to face; it's a vital part of the whole learning environment. However as you point out, the physical meeting of widely separated people can be very difficult both in time and expense.

Hope the conference goes well - I only wish I were there.

[edit] 13.3 Patrick McAndrew

Thanks for your comments - if you do find some time to look in to the conference then http://cloudworks.ac.uk/node/996 tells you more about the tools we are using and http://cloudworks.ac.uk/node/873 gathers together information from the OER conference (which starts Tuesday 3 March 09) - look on the right for various things including lists of participants and agenda. Please feel free to create logins and join in with comments or by creating new clouds linked to the conference cloudscape. In particular I have created a starting point for gathering issues together at http://cloudworks.ac.uk/node/980 so that could be good place just to leave a comment.

[edit] 14 William Kamkwamba's story / social entrepreneurship

[edit] 14.1 Cliff Missen

I love William Kamkwamba's story because it represents the best of what we are trying to accomplish.

The right information in the right hands at the right time makes a world of difference.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arD374MFk4w

[edit] 14.2 Kim Tucker

William Kamkwamba's story reminded me of this topic.

There seem to be some (real and potential) social entrepreneurs on this list, and to achieve the ultimate aims of OER, the MDG, etc., it would be good to find ways of facilitating and catalysing the emergence of social entrepreneurs by developing appropriate free/libre learning resources/OER.

A wealth of ideas and experience is reflected in the discussions on this list. Thank you!

[1] Is there a way "social entrepreneurship" could be worked into the proposals?

Or,

[2] would anyone be willing to contribute to a curriculum on social entrepreneurship?

http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Portal:Social_entrepreneurship/Curriculum

Please respond to [1] via this list and [2] via the wiki: http://oerwiki.iiep-unesco.org/index.php?title=Collaborators_Sought

[edit] 14.3 Andreas Meiszner

Thanks for the Wikiversity link. Scanning the page you linked to I saw the box “This learning project needs more co-learners. Please join!”, which brought me to the second mail you sent

“Would it make sense for this UNESCO OER community to identify groups of participants with common interests to collaborate on developing learning resources for specific purposes, or for other reasons?”

and

“[2] would anyone be willing to contribute to a curriculum on social entrepreneurship?”

Regarding “purpose and reason” one option might be to look for currently running courses dealing with social entrepreneurship and approach those to join in this Wikiversity project. A requirement would be that those running courses would have or adapt a project based learning approach so that the students of those courses could add the outcomes of their “learning projects” to the wiki. With the results of those learning projects you than could start drawing up a curriculum and see what’s still missing. Albeit certainly obvious I just thought mentioning this as an option.

[edit] 14.4 Moyomola Bolarin

Good.

In my view, William's story demonstrated the importance of OER accessibility, that cannot be over emphasized, to poor rural communities. He is just one of 10s of creative genius wasting away in rural communities for lack of access to the right information at the right time. I have had the opportunities of participating in over 100 rural community development activities in some countries of Africa and Middle-East, and I have come across many like William Kamkwamba. One thing I have found common to them is "access to the right information" in what way it can be made available, online or off-line.

Listen to William Kamkwamba's story, what striked most is "After I drove out from school, I went to library and I read a book about windmill and I try it and I made it...." said William Kamkwamba. Note, he went to library...read a book about windmill. That simple statement would have taken him several days of reading and re-reading the same materials and looking at pictorial illustrations. Back to about 2 decades ago, I have seen someone with similar creative ability, a village photographer who constructed a color enlarger, and made 3 primary color filters on clear lithographic transparent sheets using colors extracted from flower petals after reading a French book on color photography. The interesting part of it is that he neither read nor speaks French; he merely looks at picture illustration and make up what the text could be explaining. He used his enlarger to print acceptable color print, at least for his local community and surrounding villages until he save enough money to buy imported color enlarger and set up a studio in the city. He is a successful photographer till today.

In the past, Apple computer used to come pre-install with with "Mayo Clinic". Apple would have no either of how that program had helped many tackle some health issues or how helpful books like "Where There is No Doctor" is to many homes in tropical and sub-tropical developing countries. OER can be equally important in this digital age.

Imaging, making OER available, even if only off-line, with contents that meet the need and aspiration of poor rural communities who have passions to be channeled in the right direction with the right information at the right time through Community learning Centers, or community information kiosks, many like William Kamkwamba, who may not be as fortunate to get media attention, would also have been enabled to overcome poverty.

I have also seen where an rural community elementary school proprietor made a low cost data projector out of scraps of overhead projector and an LCD after reading about similar do-it-yourself through write up downloaded from the internet.

In addition to the education resource center proposal I subscribed to, I am also in support of a proposal on "social entrepreneurship". Paid salary jobs are not easy to comeby for many graduates in many developing countries this days. Information on Social entrepreneurship opportunities are what many are trying to get to make a difference in their community and possibly earn a sustainable income.

Proposal on social entrepreneurship is a worthwhile effort.

[edit] 14.5 Geoffrey Hulme

Dear Bjoern I preface my answer to your question by explaining that what Knowledge Aid (www. knowledgeaid.org) has begun to do in Sierra Leone is to establish a modest network of internet learning centres, beginning with a small centre in the main urban area (Freetown) and hoping to move up-country with one or more mobile centres. Finance has come from charitable giving in the UK and locally, from the local Ministry of Education and from small charges to pupils, who come from secondary, tertiary and continuing education sectors. Training is provided by a small core staff who encourage and help pupils to download and use OERs.

Each country needs to develop its own pattern but this seems to us the kind of local capacity that should be supported by international organisations, probably on a matching fund basis.(It would be for discussion whether the funding to be matched by donors would be that from civil society, from national government or from a combination of the two) The emphasis in training should be on use of the Net itself, through production of good and well-publicised OERs, and possibly through establishment of a network of Internet mentors who would support local trainers. Priority should be given to supporting local grass-roots spending .

Effectiveness will be influenced by the quality of the training-OERs and by the strength of incentives to local teachers.

A key difficulty is that initiatives of this kind are too small to attract the attention of donors but I hope that you will be able to steer this exercise in the direction of giving them an urgently needed boost.

I shall be happy to elaborate if you or others are interested.

Best Geoffrey Hulme

[edit] 15 Architecture

Having browsed through the contributions to date, I have seen many stakeholder concerns addressed and OER use scenarios illustrated. An architecture is an artefact in which such concerns and scenarios can be structured (consolidated) prior to detailed planning of projects that cumulatively develop practices and systems over a long period of time. The architecture supports the (OER) programme management. Each and every project in the programme would pursue a specific goal (mandate): for a country, a specific discipline, for a specific technology generations; while trying to reuse the cumulated prior assets.

The architecture would include at the enterprise model level (technology independent):

  • detailed and precise descriptions of the typical actors: learners and teachers, educational institutions, ministries of education (deciding curricula), etc. (e.g., to be called UNESCO Harmonised OER Role Model, see below);
  • identification of the processes for producing and delivering the OER (content) and related management objects (usage, pricing incl negative,) and the roles actors can have in these processes; include governance and management; note also that "prosumers produce and consume, production carries incentives"
  • detailed and precise descriptions of the OER life cycle: authoring, peer review, certifying, publishing, using, feedback, compensations,...

Taking into considerations the facts and access-options on the ground, each project will embody the models and prior assets in a particular way - consider the scenarios.

This way of working has been demonstrated - and documented - by the European Transmission System Operators (electricity grid). See in particular ETSO Harmonised Electricity Role model, at http://www.etso-net.org/Activities/edi/_library/index.asp ( or if bandwith allows, 2mb doc, http://www.etso-net.org/Activities/edi/role/role-model-def.pdf )

Once such a harmonised role model has been agreed (basic version), it becomes a resource for the OER projects, which would proceed in accordance with a -- UN/CEFACT Mod. Meth. compliant-- method described in http://www.etso-net.org/Activities/edi/emm/emm-v1r4.pdf

For the OER themselves, core components must be defined.

Additional customisations are required to cater for the various stakeholders and presentation options in the OER case.