A Tale of Openness in Two Chapters

Generously shared by Viviane Vladimirschi



By @vvladi


I divide my professional history into two chapters. During the first chapter of my professional history, I taught intermediate and advanced ESL/EFL to Brazilian students and developed instructional material to supplement textbooks at a non-for profit bi-national organization in São Paulo, Brazil. This chapter of my professional history is marked by unaware yet spontaneous acts of openness. In other words, it was a common practice between all instructors to share, adapt and remix the lesson plans and activities we had created for a particular course, lesson or activity. We were all fully engaged in this activity, as our objective was to help each other improve the instructional materials that were within our reach and which the school curriculum made available. Naturally, this first chapter of my professional history happened at a time when no one even dreamed the Internet would one day exist. Nevertheless, there was a lot of sharing and collaboration taking place between instructors, which ended up having a very positive impact on student engagement and performance in specific courses or lessons.

Indeed, from time immemorial, teachers have mashed up textbooks, photocopies, pictures, games and graphics, to name a few. However, it is worth noting that just mashing up these instructional materials misses the point of being truly open since all these instructional materials that we used to mash up were proprietary and were not intended for a broader audience. What distinguishes these common mashing practices from the use of open, open educational practices (OEP) and open education resources (OER) is that the latter are intended to be mashed up to be: “free to access, free to reuse, free to revise, free to remix, and free to redistribute” (Wiley, 2013, para. 2) through use of open licenses, such as those afforded by Creative Commons that are within the boundaries of copyright law. There are therefore important differences between mashing up materials that are proprietary and are not created to be freely accessed, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed and openly licensed materials. The inherent and intrinsic characteristics of what today we researchers and educators define as being truly ‘open’ instructional materials, learning objects or OER resulted in part from the advent of the Internet, the World Wide Web, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the Declaration of Open Education, the OER Movement and Creative Commons licenses.

This leads me to the second chapter of my professional life, which has been to this day profoundly marked and changed by all the factors mentioned above. I have always been passionate about technology and its potential to positively impact teaching and learning practices. The Digital Age has opened up all kinds of doors and possibilities for educators to improve their pedagogical practices. Consequently, in 2002, I decided to make a career change. I left the school where I was teaching EFL/ESL and was Supervisor of Online Courses, got a M.Ed. with specialization in distance education and founded a company that renders consulting, instructional design and training services to those institutions that wish to implement online learning, hybrid learning, mobile learning, and more recently, open educational practices. About a year after I had completed my M.Ed., I decided to embark on another journey, which was getting a PhD.

Since the very beginning of my PhD, I knew that I wanted to do something that would benefit public K-12 education in Brazil. My main goal is to build very specific bridges across very specific chasms between where we are in terms of K-12 public education in Brazil and where we ought to be in terms of bringing the concept of open and its practical implementations to this specific education sector. The focus of my research has been on finding ways to empower and build the capacity of Brazilian K-12 public education teachers so that they become more aligned and attuned with 21st century teaching and learning approaches and practices. Choosing open education, OEP, and more specifically OER, appeared to be at the time and still is today, the only natural and logical approach taking into consideration a public education sector that severely lacks physical, digital and human resources and social forms of support to improve education for its students. My thesis therefore is focused on raising awareness and building capacity on OER in this sector. As capacity building is fundamental for OER uptake, I am exploring how teachers experience open professional development opportunities and what factors influence the adoption of OER or OEP in practice. Hopefully, my study will contribute to the Open Education field by providing recommendations for a professional development framework for Brazilian K-12 public education teachers.

In conclusion, this has not been an easy objective to achieve. Throughout this journey I have had to learn not only how to assemble and repurpose OER so that I can understand the challenges the teachers themselves have to face when using and creating OER but have also had to deal with innumerous challenges, barriers and set backs along the way in regards to my own research. However, I feel confident that my choice and actions to go open will reap many benefits not only to the subjects of my study but also to the Open Education movement as a whole. I could have taken a different road during the second chapter of my professional life and undoubtedly today I would be doing something very different. Nonetheless, this particular road has brought me immense joy and self-fulfillment. As Robert Frost has so aptly written in his poem “The Road Not Taken”, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”.


Wiley, D. (2013, October 21). What is open pedagogy? [Web log post]. Iterating toward openness. Lumen Learning. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

Reflections on a little bit of open education (TL;DR: it works).


Generously shared by @Philbarker


We are setting up a new honours degree programme which will involve use of online resources for work based blended learning. I was asked to demonstrate some the resources and approaches that might be useful. This is one of the quick examples that I was able to knock up(*) and some reflections on how Open Education helped me. By the way, I especially like the last bit about “open educational practice”. So if the rest bores you, just skip to the end.

(*Disclaimer: this really is a quickly-made example, it’s in no way representative of the depth of content we will aim for in the resources we use.)

Making the resource

I had decided that I wanted to show some resources that would be useful for our first year, first semester Praxis course. This course aims to introduce students to some of the skills they will need to study computer science, ranging from appreciating the range of topics they will study to being able to use our Linux systems, from applying study skills to understanding some requirements of academic writing. I was thinking that much of this would be fairly generic and must be covered by a hundred and one existing resources when  I saw this tweet:

That seemed to be in roughly the right area, so I took a look at the University of Nottingham’s HELM Open site and found an Introduction to Referencing. Bingo. The content seemed appropriate, but I wasn’t keen on a couple of things. First, breaking up the video in 20sec chunks I fear would mean the student spend more time ‘interacting’ with the Next-> button than thinking about the content. Second, it seems a little bit too delivery oriented, I would like the student to be a little more actively engaged.

I noticed there is a little download arrow on each page which let me download the video. So I downloaded them all and used OpenShot to string them together into one file. I exported this and used the h5p WordPress plugin to show how it could be combined with some interactive elements and hosted on a WordPress site with the hypothes.is annotation plugin, to get this:

The remixed resource: on the top left is the video, below that some questions to prompt the students to pay attention to the most significant points, and on the right the hypothes.is pop-out for discussion.

How openness helps

So that was easy enough, a demo of the type of resource we might produce, created in less than an afternoon. How did “openness” help make it easy.

Open licensing and the 5Rs

David Wiley’s famous 5Rs define open licences as those that let you  Reuse, Revise, Remix, Retain and Redistribute learning resources. The original resource was licensed as CC:BY-NC and so permitted all of these actions. How did they help?

Reuse: I couldn’t have produced the video from scratch without learning some new skills or having sizeable budget, and having much more time.

Revise: I wasn’t happy with the short video / many page turns approach, but was  able to revise the video to make it play all the way through in one go.

Remix: The video was then added to some formative exercises, and discussion facility added.

Retain: in order for us to rely on these resources when teaching we need to be sure that the resource remains available. That means taking responsibility keeping it available. Hence we’ll be hosting it on a site we control.

Redistribute: we will make our version available to other. This isn’t just about “paying forward”, it’s about the benefits that working in an open network being, see the discussion about nebulous open education below.

One point to make here: the licence has a Non-Commercial restriction. I understand why some people favour this, but imagine if I were an independent consultant brought in to do this work, and charged for it. Would I then be able to use the HELM material? The recent case about a commercial company charging to duplicate CC-licensed material for schools, which a US judge ruled within the terms of the licence might apply, but photocopying seems different to remixing. To my mind, the NC clause just complicates things too much.

Open standards, and open source

I hadn’t heard much about David Wiley’s ALMS framework for technical choices to facilitate openness (same page as before, just scroll a bit further) but it deals directly with issues I am very familiar with. Anyone who thinks about it will realise that a copy-protected PDF is not open no matter what the licence on it says. The ALMS framework breaks the reasoning for this down to four aspects: Access to editing tools, Level of expertise required, Meaningfully editable, Self sources. Hmmm. Maybe sometimes it’s clearer not to force category names into acronyms? Anyway, here’s how these helped.

Self-sourced, meaning the distribution format is the source code. This is especially relevant as the reason HELM sent the tweet that alerted me to their materials was that they are re-authoring material from Flash to HTML5. Aside from modern browser support, one big advantage of them doing this is that instead of having an impenetrable SWF package I had access to the assets that made the resource, notably the video clips.

Meaningfully editable: that access to the assets meant that I could edit the content, stringing the videos together, copying and pasting text from the transcript to use as questions.

Level of expertise required: I have found all the tools and services used (OpenShot, H5P, hypothes.is, WordPress) relatively easy to use, however some experience is required, for example to be familiar with various plugins available for WordPress and how to install them. Video editing in particular takes some expertise. It’s probably something that most people don’t do very often (I don’t).  Maybe the general level of digital literacy level we should now aim for is one where people are familiar with photo and video editing tools as well as text oriented word processing and presentation tools. However, I’m inclined to think that the details of using the H264 video codec and AAC audio codec, packaged in a MPEG-4 Part 14 container (compare and contrast with VP9 and ogg vorbis packaged in a profile of Matroska) should remain hidden from most people. Fortunately, standardisation means that the number of options is less than it would otherwise be, and it was possible to find many pages on the web with guidance on the browser compatibility of these options (MP4 and WebM respectively).

Access to editing tools, where access starts with low cost. All the tools used were free, most were open source, and all ran on Ubuntu (most can also run on other platforms).

It’s notable that all these ultimately involve open source software and open standards, and work especially well when then “open” for open standards includes free to implement. That complicated bit around MP4 & WebM video formats, that comes about because royalty requirements for those implementing MP4.

Open educational practice: nebulous but important.

Open education includes but is more than open education resources, open content, open licensing and open standards. It also means talking about what we do. It means that I found out about HELM because they were openly tweeting about their resources. I think that is how I learnt about nearly all the tools discussed here ina similar manner. Yes, “pimping your stuff” is importantly open. Open education also means asking questions and writing how-to articles that let non-experts like me deal with complexities like video encoding.

There’s a deeper open education at play here as well. See that resource from HELM that I started with? It started life in the RLO CETL, i.e. in a publicly funded initiative, now long gone. And the reason I and others in the UKHE know about Creative Commons and David Wiley’s analysis of open content, that largely comes down to #UKOER, again a publicly  funded initiative. UKOER and the stuff about open standards and open source was supported by Jisc, publicly funded. Alumni from these initiatives are to be found all over UKHE, through which these initiatives continue to be crucially important in building our capability and capacity to support learners in new and innovative settings.

Open By Accident

Generously shared with us by Frances Bell

In 1996, I was lecturing in Information Systems in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences at University of Salford.  A colleague ran a Lotus Notes Server (under his desk as I recall) that hosted a Student Information System – and I had an account on the server for that reason.

And then – Lotus released the Domino server  that transformed from just a Notes server to become an Interactive Web server ! What was posted on a Notes Server could be shared on the Web.


I had looked enviously at Universities that offered tilde Web spaces for staff and sometimes students, but had no idea how I could persuade IT Services, or learn HTML alongside all my other commitments.

But now, I had a user account that enabled me to create Lotus Notes databases that would allow students to access and engage with what I published on a MS Office template database. So I just uploaded Word and Powerpoint documents to Lotus Notes, and there they were – on the Web. OK so the urls were a nightmare, but I was sharing course resources openly.  And I could sync the databases to my home computer, reducing my dialup charges.

My intention was that students could access resources but I soon realised that other educators were finding my stuff, and contacting me. This encouraged me in different ways: I adopted a more scholarly approach to citation/referencing in slideshows; and I was able to share resources as my network increased. Later, a colleague who joined us from another university told me how much she valued my stuff and we worked to create new web materials together when we team taught a large module.

I had also discovered the Notes Discussion template, and realised that I could set up Discussion spaces for students (and invite others) where they could have conversations that were shared but not in the public domain.

And then, an institutional reorganisation happened and I lost access to the Lotus Notes server and had to learn HTML in a month but that’s another story !

This is a bricolage story for #101openstories. Find out more and share your open story at https://101openstories.wordpress.com/welcome/

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Generously shared with us by howsheilaseesIT

#101 open stories – my story

101 open stories is a great idea organised by a fantastic global team of open educational researchers and educators to amass some open stories during this year’s open education week.

It got me thinking about my OER story or stories. Where to begin? I wish I had the time and the ability to weave a tale worthy of Scheherazade. One full of poetry, wishes, fantastic voyages and the odd djinn.  One that would keep Vice Chancellors awake till just after the midnight hour (aka TEF/REF/NSS results publications).  One that would entice them to fully embrace open education. However,  if I want to get something done this week  all I can do is share my experiences and some reflections my open journey so far.

My involvement in the open education world has been quite long and varied.  It started during my time at Cetis. We were supporting open standards and open source, had been part of the whole learning object thang,  so OERs and wider open educational practice were a natural addition to our remit. I was involved in our first OER briefing paper, was one of the first OLNet fellows back in 2009 when I went to Mexico to the OCWC conference to find out more about that community.  I probably should do a time line of open stuff I’ve been involved in . . .

I think my open story is very much an evolving, personal one.  Open practice has become an increasingly important part of my working life. I’ve never been “hard core” open, in the sense that it’s never taken up 100% of my time. Even back when I worked with Cetis I wasn’t involved directly in the support of the Jisc/HE OER programmes, I was of course influenced by them and did try to filter the open element to other Jisc programmes I was involved in at the time.

Sharing has always been at the heart of my professional practice. When we were made to blog at Cetis it actually opened a whole new level of professional interaction and personal reflection for me.  At the time I didn’t really consider this as open practice, but now I really do.  Openly sharing and reflecting has connected me to so many colleagues across the globe.  That has been equally rewarding and enriching. It has lead to conversations and sharing of practice and ideas.  This open story of mine  probably hasn’t  changed that much in the last two years.

I think that my experiences of open learning has been, to use a phrase I don’t really like,  “game changing” for me. Back in 2011/12 in the heady days of MOOCs I probably signed up for a few too many of them but I really wanted to understand this aspect of open from a learners point of view. I still am a recovering Mooc-aholic. I still slip off the wagon now and again, but it’s not the same as the it was back in the old days . . .

My experience as an open learner really helped me to focus and reflect on my own approaches to learning, my own practice in terms of my approaches to learning design, to learner engagement, to peer support, to assessment. In fact all the things I do now as part of my job.  It also introduced me to another set of fantastically diverse, open learners and educators. People like Penny who is one of the organisers of the 101 stories project.

Open-ness is now a habit for me. It’s part of my practice, but it has natural (and at time imposed ) peaks and troughs. Not everything can or should be open. I often find it a struggle to keep open on my agenda. I’m still working out my own praxis with open-ness.  am doing this through the work of many open education researchers, people like Catherine Cronin whose work provokes and inspires me, and leads me to many others who are working in this field.

Open education isn’t a fairy tale, but it does confront some vary salient, moral and ethical issues around education.  Including but not limited to: who can access education and publicly funded resources/data/research findings.  What rights do staff have over materials they produce whilst working for institutions?  Open-ness doesn’t automatically lead to a happy ending.  It has many twists and turns, just like the stories of the Arabian Nights. It might be a bit like The Force in Star Wars, surrounding us and binding us. . . but that’s a story for another day.

Today as the UK takes a leap into the unknown and to closing of borders and creation of barriers, we need open stories more than ever. We need these stories to permeate, to keep open on the wider political agenda. To keep people talking about open, in the open.

I look forward to watching and learning from the #101 stories and hope that if you have read this you might think of sharing your own.


#101openstories is born

Happy #openeducationwk & #yearofopen 2017

 oewlogo-2017-transparent-bg  Year of open-final-01

This is an open invitation to share your personal story about openness in the context of education, research and the ethos of participation and sharing the cultural and social aspects of openness, wherever you are on this beautiful planet we all call home.  

We are interested in stories from educators, researchers, students and learners!

Too often we hear about and experience the divide of the Global North and the Global South but also among nations in neighbouring parts of the world. Let’s bridge it! Getting to know each other and coming together is, we feel, an important step forward. Together we can achieve so so much more! Part of your story may include your strengths (what you have to offer) and needs (places where you’re struggling to achieve your open goals) in the context of collaboration.

Your individual open story will help us all get to know each other, share ideas and engage in conversations and identify opportunities to support each other and collaborate. Therefore, these stories will help us learn with and from each other and grow individually AND collectively. Too often we focus on things that separate us. Let’s focus on what unites us!

You can submit your open story in any format or medium you like, in any language you want to. Feel free to use prose or poem, photos, drawings, cartoons, film, model, collage, music or dance… keep it short and be imaginative ;). Remember to add the hashtag #101openstories to help us curate them all.

We hope you will be ok to make your story available under a CC BY licence so that all of them can be spread and studied further. We hope that the collection of #101openstories will inspire others, provide food for thought for students, practitioners, researchers and the wider public to use and gain insights into the world of open through your stories, through our stories.  


“This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.” Source https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

Remember to add your name to your story and attribute if you are re-using or re-mixing somebody else’s story!

Share YOUR story with us all and connect with others from around the world!

Start today and see the seeds growing and spreading!

Help us to collect and curate #101openstories starting during #openeducationwk and continue throughout the #yearofopen to create a #101openstories magazine to celebrate openness across borders.

#101openstories team