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It’s all computational. It’s all educational.

October 8, 2013

From British Sea Power’s “Monsters of Sunderland”

I’ve spent a worthwhile few hours this week watching Martin Weller’s YouTube playlist “understanding OER in 10 videos” as a first delve into the concepts of “Digital Scholarship” and “Open Education Resources (OER)”. I’d recommend watching all the videos, but the talks on OER by Dr. David Wiley and Gardner Campbell in particular were a fascinating insight into the current state of learning in the digital age, the unfathomable opportunities – both educational and social – we are provided with, and the obstacles we face in trying to break free from historical ideologies, commercialist paradigms and, indeed, our own imaginations.

The essence of OER is also a difficult concept for some, and in many ways it’s major obstacle, and that is sharing: using the Internet to freely disseminate information on a global scale. In his talk on OER Wiley defines it as “teaching materials that are freely shared and allow us to engage in the four R’s”, these being Re-use, Redistribution, Revision and Re-mixing (Wiley, 2010).  Wiley talks candidly about the need for “openness” in education and “generosity” in the face of opposition plagued with what he refers to a “loss aversion”. Not everybody wants to share what they know, or give it away for free. Granted, it’s a human condition, but we’ve changed before with the advent of technological developments. The parallels he draws between the rise of the Internet and the impact of the printing press in the 15th Century  – a time when information was in demand but it’s distribution was choked by “outdated thinking reinforced by Draconian law” – is uncanny to the point of being eerie. That first collision 500+ years ago was a precursor to what we now refer to as the reformation. With information now immediate and mostly free on the Internet, and numbers in higher education estimated to at least double over the next twenty-five years, there has never been a more valid argument for reforming the way we teach, learn and share our collective knowledge.

Yet for every positive thinker who sees the benefit of an open, networked world with free information, there also exists those in opposition: egotistical academics, greedy corporations and parsimonious institutions for whom the concept of ‘giving something away’ is completely alien. Is this aversion rooted in competitiveness or commercialism? Both, probably, but as Wiley points out expertise is and should be non-rivalrous, in the sense that it can be “given without being given away” (Wiley, 2010).

A big part of the OER debate then comes down to sustainability. If something is being ‘given away’ for free how is such content generated and maintained if no-one pays? (Downes, 2007). However, many view current commercial distribution systems as inefficient. Statistics by Kansa & Ashley (2005, cited in Downes, 2007) indicate that approximately 27% of research papers are published, and only 5% openly shared. They argue that the value of data increases tenfold when openly available. Downes lauds the benefits of OER, but accepts “only if the cost can be borne in terms of funding and practicality”.  An online-version of Downes paper with his proposed funding models can be read here. Caswell, et al (2008) herald OER as the chance to “deliver on the promise of the universal right to education” claiming it can provide learning content for unlimited users at “no additional cost beyond the original cost of production”.

While on the subject of cost, another Wiley Video looks at the impact of OER in the context of the “COUP” framework. “COUP” being an acronym for “Cost, Outcomes, Use and Perception” (of OER resources by students and faculty staff). Here he argues that open, “custom-made” textbooks are more cost-effective and have more impact than traditional textbooks. Students can create their desired content for their own book and print this for less than the cost of a library book, (which they cannot make notes in nor annotate!). If they choose to use a digital version of this resource (and use bookmarking sites such as to highlight important parts of the text) the cost becomes zero.  Less cost, more impact (Wiley, 2013).  Additionally Caswell, et al (2008) believe that good OER practices can change “distance education’s role from one of classroom alternative to one of social transformer”.



However, OER also exist outside the framework of “traditional learning’. In his book “The Digital Scholar” Martin Weller describes new ways of researching and working as the Internet reaches out across the globe. While books and journals still form a constituent part, more and more E-books and E-journals are being used for teaching and learning. Social bookmarking sites are utilized so we may see where our contemporaries are getting their references. Social networking sites and personal blogs are becoming an increasingly important forum where like-minded, open individuals can collaborate, share their ideas and data and solve problems together (Weller, 2011). The TEDxTALK by Michael Nielsen gives a great example of how open data-sharing and blogging about it can solve not one, but a multitude of problems as open education manifests into “Open Science” or “Research 2.0”. It’s an engaging talk covering some key issues surrounding approaches to research and sharing data via collaboration on the Internet. Nielsen (2011) is a staunch believer that “publicly funded science should be open”.


Martin Weller’s “personal work/leisure/learning environment” or “PLE”. Source:

The final talk in the Weller playlist by Gardner Campbell demands more attention and focuses on some key areas of conflict that OER face. Similarly to Wiley, Gardner baulks at the attitude of peers, who (of OER) claim, “It may be learning, but it’s not academics” (Campbell, 2012).  Amongst other things, Campbell discusses the role of  ‘Massive Online Open Courses” (MOOCs), Recursion, and the idea that we should be building ‘The Web’ together. This however, in his opinion requires a level of thought that we are not completely accustomed to nurturing, and he references Gregory Bateson’s “hierarchy of learning” (Bateson, 1972) to illustrate this. A good introduction to Bateson’s work is the paper by Paul Tosey as he discusses it in the context of learning for management development and higher education.

An interesting element of Campbell’s talk was the topic of “trans-contextual syndrome” and the idea of the “double-bind”. As an audio engineer I’ve a come across this concept many times when requested to “make the snare have more crack, but also make it softer” or “make the guitars a wall of sound but push them right back in the mix so we can hardly hear them….”. What we’re talking about is two conflicting demands.  The example Campbell offers is that of the ‘media blog grading rubric’ and is something that should resonate with any of my peers reading this, as it relates to a situation where students are asked to blog as part of their module and show ‘creativity and originality’, while embracing a culture of sharing… re-using, redistributing, revising and re-mixing. Being instructed to be freethinking and open while still adhering to strict criteria in order to demonstrate understanding and ultimately pass, represents a conflict inherent in the double bind. Watch Campbell’s video and what you will see is that while this may be a contradiction, working through our trans-contextual syndromes to a final outcome, customizing and constructing our own education and building the Internet together might just be the answer. The double bind: A tough nut, but one we have to crack.

I should probably have started by telling you that I didn’t learn about digital scholarship in a book. I didn’t conduct a literature review of journals to gain an understanding of OER. And, while I may have sat in a lecture that broadly outlined the concepts, I did the majority of my research – my learning – using freely available Internet resources.


Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind – collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution and epistemology. Retrieved 6th October 2013, from

Campbell, G. 2012. Ecologies of Yearning. Open Ed’ Conference Keynote. Retrieved 5th October 2013, from

Caswell, T. Henson, S. Jensen, M & Wiley, D. 2008. Open Educational Resources: Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Volume 9, Number 1. Utah State Univeristy

Downes, S. 2007. Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. National Research Council Canada & Institute for Information Technology. Canada.

Nielen, M. 2011. Open Science now! A TEDxTALKS. Retrieved 5th October 2013, from

Weller, M. 2011. The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Retrieved 6th October 2013, from

Wiley, D. 2010. Open Education and the future. A TEDxTALKS. Retrieved 7th October 2013, from

Wiley, D. 2012. The Open Eduction COUP. Retrieved 6th October 2013, from


From → OER, Uncategorized

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