Searching for the Mythical OER Beast

Alan Levine (@cogdog) is preparing another True Stories of Open Sharing presentation, this time focusing on reuse of open educational resources. I contributed a story for his latest call True Stories of OER Reuse highlighting the recent Geography Open textbook sprint and the textbook we created reusing open educational materials gathered from around the web.

I love contributing to Alan’s calls because they give me a great excuse to have a bit of fun, like this daily prompt from a few months back, urging me to: Create a visual that might accompany one of the mashed up headlines from @twoheadlines. The mashed-up headline I got was Photos: Seattle Seahawks shows off his table tennis skills in Chengdu which became:

Photos: Seattle Seahawks shows off his table tennis skills in Chengdu

His prompts always give me something to work with, and idea to run with, like this latest call for OER stories of reuse where he framed his pitch for stories around a hunt for a mythical beast. It was a good narrative hook and easy to play with and, just like the atomic testing awoke the mighty mythical Godzilla, our recent backyard renovations disturbed something hidden underground that has now taken refuge in my backyard.

If you are not familiar with Alan’s True Stories of Open Sharing, I urge you to spend some time poking around his collection of user submitted True Stories of open sharing (he has conveniently curated a featured section of stories, which might be a good place to start). What makes this collection so special is that these are personal stories told in a personal fashion. These are not scripted marketing videos to sell the idea of sharing, but rather personal anecdotes (both great and small) of sharing and connecting. There is power in anecdotes, made even moreso by Alan’s work aggregating and collecting the stories in a single space.

If you have ever created, used or reused an open educational resource, consider submitting a video to his latest call. It doesn’t have to be a grand story of something amazing, or have impressive video production skills. Just turn on your webcam and tell your story that illustrates the everday power of sharing and connecting in our virtual world.


Connecting with faculty

Things are settling down into a summer groove and I’ve been able to do a bit of reflecting on what was a whirlwind spring of activity which included a very short – but highly impressionable – trip to the Canadian Chemistry Conference in Vancouver.

BCcampus sponsored a talk by Delamr Larson, founder of the ChemWiki project out of UC Davis. I’m a fan of the Chemwiki project  (an open pedagogy project that began as a student assignment and has now become one of the largest Chemistry open educational resources on the web) and jumped at the chance to have lunch with Delmar. I was also looking forward to reconnecting with Sharon and Bruno from the BC-ILN at TRU and to also meet Jessie Key from VIU who is adapting a Chemistry open textbook this summer as part of the BC Open Textbook project. But to be honest, the conference itself wasn’t much of a draw for me. I mean, I am not a chemist or have a chemistry background and attending a general chemistry conference wasn’t high on the list of conferences I was hoping to attend.

Man, was I wrong. It turned out to be one of the more revelatory experiences of my event filled spring.

From the moment I stepped into my first session I immediately regretted my decision to just spend the morning at the conference and head back to Victoria after lunch with Delmar. I had no idea – no idea – that there would be such a strong education track at a general conference. I mean, check out the edu focused stream of sessions list from the event. Sessions like Open Access Resources for teaching Analytical Chemistry, Service Learning: Contributions to Wikipedia, and a whole host of others made me wonder if I had accidentally wandered into an open education/edtech conference. There were more education focused sessions at this general chemistry conference than I’ve seen at many edu-focused conferences I’ve attended. And really excellent sessions, focused on innovative pedagogies and unique uses of technology in teaching and learning.

Wait, isn’t this the conference where chemists get together and talk about the science of chemistry? The business of chemistry? Where the heck did all of these educators come from? WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS IS WHERE THEY ALL HANG OUT?

It took me back. I mean, maybe this industry focused conference is different. Maybe the Canadian Psychology Conference or the Canadian Biology Conference doesn’t have such a deep connection to education as Chemistry does. Maybe I hit upon the exception rather than the rule. Maybe. But after seeing the level of edu involvement at the Chemsitry conference, it underscored that I need to find out and do some deeper research into discipline specific association conferences. And it double underlined for me how deeply higher ed faculty are connected to their discipline.

It is one of those retrospectively obvious epiphanies; want to connect with faculty? Then maybe the place to do it isn’t at edu conferences but at discipline specific conferences, like this. If I want to be a truly effective advocate for open educational resources and open learning, then these are the events I need to be at. This is where faculty connect with faculty. This is where they are talking about pedagogy, the role of technology in their classroom, teaching & learning practice, communities of practice and open educational resources, although that phrase wasn’t to be found, yet the practice was everywhere.

For example, at this conference I found out about the IONiC (Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists) and VIPEr (Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource). IONiC is an online network for teachers of inorganic chemistry, and VIPEr a repository of teaching materials freely available for inorganic chemistry faculty. Both these were started not by open education advocates, but by inorganic chemistry faculty themselves. They wanted space to share resources and develop community. It’s a grassroots lesson in sharing and connecting, driven by the faculty, driven by the community and not by a more formalized “Open Educational Resource” project. I mean, when you read about what VIPEr and IONiC are about, not once do you see the phrase “open educational resource” or “learning object repository”, or even the word “open”. Yet this is clearly an example of open education in action, just without the words we all use to describe open practices in education.

How many more communities like this are there out there? How many are being driven by faculty and living outside the boundaries of our more formalized “open education” world? And how do we in open education find and connect with projects like this; projects that have the potential to resonate with faculty even more deeply than more formalized OER projects (like the open textbook project I am working on) because they are being driven BY faculty FOR faculty?

Needless to say, I’ll be on the lookout for more opportunities to attend conferences like the Canadian Chemistry Conference.

Thanks to Pat Lockley and Tannis Morgan for a Twitter convo prompting this post.