Experience Fieldnotes: Languages of Open Education

Written by enkerli, Fri 26 Mar 2021

As a warning: I’m posting these fieldnotes in draft form.

The rationale behind these experience fieldnotes is that, even when these notes are raw, it can useful to share some of the insight that we gain as members of Collecto’s technopedagogical team when we participate in different events. A significant part of what we do is prospective, emergent, and ongoing. In this context, it remains hard to explain and difficult to perceive from the outside. These posts provide an opportunity to share informally about unfolding issues and topics.

Open Education is an evergreen theme for our team. Some challenges become more prominent with time.

While this post revolves around a specific event, it also serves as a placeholder for further discussions about language issues behind Open Education. With a few relevant links.

Hence the open-ended nature of these sections and “work-in-progress” format for this post.

Open Activities 

During the first week of March, OE Global held its annual Open Education Week (#OEWeek). I’ve participated in two activities in French and prototyped an activity in English. 

In addition, I participated in some related activities ahead of #OEWeek, including two involving Francophones:

I was also able to participate in further Open Education events since then:

The Open Education Niche

Though some people consider Open Education to be something of a niche, issues surrounding Open Educational Resources are gaining traction. At least at a policy level.

For instance, during its session for FADIO’s Distance Education Week, Quebec’s Conseil supérieur de l’éducation (CSÉ) mentioned OERs as an important issue and revealed that the movement may be slower in French-speaking contexts than elsewhere. One possible reason, mentioned by French participants during meeting of OE Global Francophone, is the relatively low cost of education in some Francophone regions.   After all, fifty years after their launch, CEGEPs are still technically tuition-free (even for French citizens).

Cost of education | Cégeps du Québec (cegepsquebec.ca)

Meanings of “Open”

Incidentally, there’s an explicit ambivalence in French translations of “Open Education”, mirroring a distinction used in the Free Software movement and in Open Source development (occasionally labelled together as “Free/Libre Open Source Software” or “FLOSS”). This very topic was the object of a meeting of the OE Global Francophone group.

One common translation of “open” is « ouverte », potentially shifting the emphasis towards openendedness. The other common translation of “open” as « libre » could either emphasize freedom or tie the movement with rights and licenses, as in « licence libre » or « libre de droits ». However, Francophone practitioners in Open Education may use « ouverte » and « libre » interchangeably, without resorting to conceptual distinctions. During the OEGfr session, collaborative activities on the meanings of “open” revealed a rich and layered understanding which went from rather prosaic (yet important) issues of intellectual property to complex notions of epistemological flexibility (possibly with a Piaget subtext given the guest’s University of Geneva affiliation). 

Open in Quebec

In addition, « pédagogie ouverte» (“Open Pedagogy”) has a long history in Quebec, as noted by Tannis Morgan, a few years back.

Open pedagogy and a very brief history of the concept – Explorations in the ed tech world (homonym.ca)

What is “found in translation” is a direct connection to Quebec’s cultural context. As Morgan points out, the period Paquette described as the inception of open pedagogy meshes with the birth of the very CEGEP system from which our team works. 

More on that context after a brief intermission.

Intermission: Prototyping an Activity on Pedagogical Heritage

Some weeks ago, an interesting situation came up through online courses at eConcordia: a student found out that one of his favourite teachers had passed away some years back. What remained was a series of videos used by the current teacher of that course.

It was covered by Slate:

How a dead professor is teaching an art history class. (slate.com)

Among others, Open Education Global’s Alan Levine posted about the situation.

Dead Professors Society – CogDogBlog

Which gave me an idea for an activity.

Deceased Profs and OER Use - Open Education Week / Do OE Week Activities - OE Global Connect

The idea was very simple: let’s tag some videos from deceased profs and document how we’d use them in our teaching. Part of the notion was that giving those videos the type of license appropriate to qualify them as OERs might have had an impact.

Though participation in this activity was very low, it did open up some interesting possibilities for future consideration in terms of resource use.

Adopting and Adapting Resources 

As I was writing this post, Alan Levine posted a piece about linguistic diversity:

Maps, Languages, Beautiful Content, Usage Rights Unknown - OEG Plaza / OEG Practical - OE Global Connect

Though Levine emphasized the authorship issue, my own reactions are more about the intricacies of adapting content from one language community to another or, as in the case of US-based cartoons adapted in France and Quebec, between speech communities “separated by a common language”. 

As I pointed out in a reply to that thread, there are different approaches to creating adaptable OERs (or any other piece of content). One is to strive for cultural neutrality while creating the original resource. Another is to go through a process of “localization” in each relevant context, a common practice on the Web in general (and somewhat different from “internationalization”). Yet another approach would be to create separate resources on top of the previous ones.

In Quebec’s Cegep system, making resources as locally-appropriate as possible is far from trivial in that our competency frameworks are quite specific. There are cases in which resources meant for colleges outside of Quebec could work relatively well for some learners but there are plenty of cases in which outside resources have limited value in our context. Though some think of knowledge as universally valid, many competencies have contextual relevance.

And when it comes to Quebec’s sociolinguistic dynamics, the appropriateness of resources built in one language or the other matters a lot.

Language and the OER problem – Explorations in the ed tech world (homonym.ca)

Textbook Costs

 Making decisions about textbook purchases can be quite tricky. An OER advocate even made it into a game. And made it intentionally frustrating. The Student Textbook Game (pressbooks.pub)

Textbook costs are a particular dimension of this analysis. There has been a lot of discussion of costs, in the OER world. It’s important to keep in mind the creation/consumption equation.

Adopting Open Educational Resources Can Help Students. But It Takes Time, Money and Effort | EdSurge News

Though learners may “consume” such resources without incurring any cost, significant resources are expended to create, adopt, and adapt resources. Given the frequent focus in the Open Education movement on OERs as a cost-saving proposition, clear and reliable cost/benefit analyses become increasingly relevant.

It’d be interesting to know more about actual textbook costs in Quebec’s Cegep system, especially since it’s potentially an even more captive market than other parts of North American Higher Education in terms of both program specificity and language use. 

Through a cursory look at estimates published on a few CEGEP sites, it sounds like average textbook costs hover around $500 a year for fulltime students. As is commonly discussed among advocates of Open Educational Resources, the openness goes way beyond the cost of textbooks in terms of both benefits and principles. Yet part of the incentive from students’ perspective comes from cost benefits.

View of The cost and quality of online open textbooks: Perceptions of community college faculty and students | First Monday (uic.edu)

A deeper look into textbook costs is likely to become relevant as our team gets more deeply involved in issues surrounding the production of digital learning resources in general and OERs in particular. Statistics on such costs aren’t readily available and warrants further investigation.

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