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Open Assembly is cloud-based platform for collaborative knowledge creation with open educational resources (OER)

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Annals of an Adjunct: Open Assembly Test Drive

To better engage her students, this adjunct details how she used our platform to track their progress (and find out whether they were really paying attention in class).

This summer I had the opportunity to take the Open Assembly platform for a demo in my image-based humanities course at a large urban public institution.

As a teacher for 14 years in some way or another, I have developed my own style of teaching that I’ve honed over the semesters. I’ve found that as my confidence in my voice grew, I abandoned the podium to which I originally found myself tethered. Because of this style of instruction, I did not teach directly from the OA platform, but I did spend many hours crafting the course within OA using information that reinforced what we covered in class.

While some students are able to take notes and still follow along, for others this proves difficult.  This summer I had two foreign students who were somewhat new to the U.S. Their writing was fine, but when speaking with me, it became clear that they did not understand everything I was saying. This is problematic in an accelerated course where content is covered quite rapidly. Both of these students greatly benefited from reviewing the content on our OA course page, where they could review the learning materials at a slower pace and re-watch the video content until they understood.

This brings up the way I enjoyed using Open Assembly the most during these courses: taking advantage of the ANALYTICS function to track students’ access to resources that I uploaded for the course. Through blank stares and low test scores, I had a hunch that certain students were not following along. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw that they had not accessed either the readings or the modules on the OA platform. While it seems a little “Big Brother,” it is a useful tool that allowed me to follow up with students who were not accessing the course materials.

Another significant benefit of Open Assembly was that for the first time, every one of my students had access to the assigned textbook. Prior to this semester, I had not used an open textbook before. I found an excellent open educational resource (OER) alternative to the (somewhat costly) textbook I had been using before, and assigned it to my latest crop of students. For once I had a level playing field in my classroom, with every student being able to afford this (free & open) textbook.

One of the ways that I plan to use the Open Assembly platform in the future is for constructing debate and assignments that can take place outside of class time. Case in point: there is immense debate over a group of sculptures known as the Elgin marbles or Parthenon marbles. These relief sculptures decorated the interior and exterior of the Parthenon temple that sits on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Acquired by Lord Elgin during his time as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century, they are now on display in the British Museum. This debate involves repatriation of artifacts and the question of who rightfully “owns” the Parthenon marbles. The Greek government contends that they were taken out of the country illegally, and there are numerous documents and video clips giving alternate sides of the argument.

In a group-based discussion exercise, students often need prompting to start the debating, but once started, many join the conversation. Unfortunately there is not enough time in the semester to devote a whole class to this exercise, so this is how I plan to use the Open Assembly platform: through videos integrated within my curriculum, students will be able to form their opinions about the status of these sculptures, then make a statement through the COMMENTS interface, forcing them to take a position. This is followed up with a formal writing assignment where the student has to make a statement and then defend that decision in a two- to three-page written response. I’m really excited about the debate possibilities that Open Assembly can bring to my classroom.

The Upside of Informal Education and Learning at the Speed of Thought

For all kinds of learners, summer offers an extended stretch of time to discover new ideas and skills on an informal basis. With the fall semester approaching, this got Open Assembly intern Elise Melconian thinking about informal education within more conventional and formal contexts.

As easily as typing a question into Google’s search bar, Internet users are able to become their own instructors. The Internet has amplified the pedagogical influence of technology and revolutionized the way society has traditionally perceived learning.

The not-for-profit infed.org explains how informal personalized education develops from conversations with others and the spontaneous connection of people and ideas. It’s often difficult to predict where informal learning will lead once such a conversation inspires an educational pursuit. John Dewey explains how “the business of education might be defined as an emancipation and enlargement of experience,” and it’s through our growing life experience that we find questions we have the power to pursue. Rather than some curriculum or plan, thoughts, exchanges, or the discovery of new information and questions connect learning to emotions and to what sparks our own interest, rather than what someone else considers significant.

Although the lack of set curricula could leave holes in a student’s education, I’ve found in my own education, learning without emotional attachment is quickly forgotten. Fortunately, what’s fantastic in education is that there’s no incorrect way to learn. We can use technology and blend informal and institutional learning styles for an experience that’s inherently more effective than previous generations of students limited to textbook learning.

With the emergence of the CC license and OER, students have the opportunity to engage more deeply in their learning, stimulated by their own conversations and experiences, to become curators of their own content. Institutions and instructors can and should mix informal learning into the curriculum to further engage students in all aspects of the learning process.

For more thoughts on informal learning, read “What is Informal Education?” on infed.org.

OER Around the World: Next Stop, Greenland

“Valley of the Flowers hike-Greenland” by Christine Zenino on Flickr/Used under CC BY

The University of Greenland and its institute for educational sciences, Inerisaavik, have been leading a project to make information communication and technology (ICT) standard in European schools. The project, Open Discovery Space (ODS), aims to reinvent the educational ecosystem and provide teachers with better tech access in this digital age.

When it comes to integrating open educational resources into curricula, schools throughout the West can face similar challenges, among them technology-infrastructure restraints, resistance to change at the classroom or institutional level, and limited digital literacy among students. A country such as Greenland must overcome a few even-greater barriers to digitizing education.

The ODS Workshop found that some factors keeping Greenland’s teachers and administrators from adopting OER are similar to those of other European countries: not-invented-here syndrome, lack of OER awareness, and lack of knowledge about the intricacies of intellectual property rights, copyright, and licenses. Other problems are culturally and logistically unique to Greenland. Broadband access in the country is still very expensive in more isolated settlements, and translating OER to Greenlandic is a must because of how many monolingual teachers and parents live there. ODS is working to engage the country’s education stakeholders on how to improve digital tools, solutions, and services for young people, increasing their employment options while also tackling the challenges of digital and socio-economic exclusion.

What’s working in Greenland’s favor is that the country’s ICT and educational policies are very favorable for OER integration. Several national efforts have been launched in Greenland to facilitate OER implementation, such as the use of learning management systems and the creation of mobile-learning projects. Schools continue to discover how OER can provide high-quality education for diverse groups of learners. However, OER advocates must help institutions localize these resources, presenting them in native languages and incorporating learning activities that mesh with the cultural attributes of communities and the individual students living and learning within them.

Read the complete article on Open Education Working Group.

Competency-Based Education and the Higher Ed Act

Earlier this month Congress made its first moves in rewriting the Higher Education Act, including the House of Representatives’ passing a bill that would create greater federal support for and investigation of competency-based education.

The Education Department already allows some institutions to explore alternative teaching methods, including competency-based education and prior learning assessment, and recently decided to award some student-based aid for such programs. In green-lighting experimental school sites, the Obama administration wants to see whether these innovations would ultimately

“improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to degree, including by allowing students to advance through educational courses and programs at their own pace by demonstrating academic achievement, and reduce reliance on student loans.”

We love the idea of students working at their own speed and taking advantage of consumer and educational technology to plot their individual learning paths, especially if such personalized learning can help save money on tuition and textbooks over time. Some have said that competency-based education could work particularly well for older and part-time students who may not be able to spend as many hours in lectures or classroom discussions as full-time students.

Yet competency-based education has inspired criticism because of a perception that it could lower academic standards or turn colleges into diploma mills. How would schools assess student mastery in, say, the tough-to-quantify humanities fields? How do you determine competency in degree programs that don’t train students for an explicit career path, such as nursing or IT? There’s also the challenge of ensuring that individualized learning will allow for developing skills that today’s employers—large and small, corporate and non-profit, startup and legacy—expect from graduates, including collaboration, writing and communication across multiple formats, and content and media literacy.

The House has approved two other bipartisan bills that would mandate financial counseling for federal student-loan borrowers and simplify how the government provides college information to prospective students. The three bills passed so far highlight the difference between the way House Republicans and Senate Democrats have approached revising the Higher Education Act: bit-by-bit changes versus comprehensive reform. It’s unlikely that Congress will reauthorize the HEA before it expires at the end of this year.

Higher Education Act’s Stamp of Approval on Edtech Innovation

HigherEdStamp
This work is used under CC-PD-Mark

Recent legislative plans to overhaul education came in two forms: jumbo and bite-sized. Senate Democrats presented a 785-pages-long bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, while a House committee, equal parts Republican and Democrat, offered 11 pages of targeted proposals for reform.

When it comes to digital innovation in education—especially as it relates to Open Assembly’s mission with regard to open educational resources (OER)—here are the three sections worth checking out.

1) Section 795E recommends an innovations fund for minority-serving institutions to boost student success, in part, by assessing the needs of any given institution, then researching and prototyping educational innovations that can improve student outcomes. Those innovations can and should include OER and digital content.

2) Section 796D offers grants to states that are able to greatly increase access to higher education for and foster the success of low-income students by 2020—especially students facing such barriers to college as having no high school diploma and working more than 25 hours a week. To qualify, states have to present plans that, among other things, promote technology to increase personalized learning and student retention. This includes blended- and flipped-learning innovations.

3) Section 932 outlines ways to provide accessible learning tools to students with disabilities, though we believe that the recommended reforms must apply to all students. The proposal calls for efficiently developing and delivering these materials to post-secondary students with print disabilities, such as open textbooks and other digital resources. States would need to compete for public or private grants and contracts to implement these improvements.

The House and Senate have their mark-up period in the weeks ahead, during which they’ll add amendments to their respective proposals before they leave for their August recess. Ever a hopeful bunch, Congress hopes to vote on the Higher Ed Act reauthorization before the mid-term election.

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