Attending OER13

OERI attended the OER13 (Open Educational Resources 2013) conference organized by Wikimedia Deutschland in Berlin, the 14th and 15th September. It was a quite interesting and inspiring set of conferences and barcamps distributed over five workshops rooms and a plenum hall. It was an intense two days workshop that focused on topics like the present day state of the art and the future of MOOCs (massive open online courses), P2P (peer to peer) learning, OER for schools and university, CC (creative commons) licenses and open source material. Unfortunately it was impossible to attend at several interesting talks since, because of the high number of participants and the choice to compress all the events into a week end, most sessions run in parallel and it was necessary to chose those which I considered the most interesting, neglecting however several others which could have been equally worth a visit. It would be impossible to account for any (mostly positive) impression. Just to mention some, what I personally found most interesting were essentially three contributions.

The first by Philipp Schmidt, of the P2PU/MIT Media Lab who described the Peer 2 Peer University open education project, and which gave me the impression of being a (still too) rare attempt to go beyond standard institutional approaches.

The second very interesting ongoing experiment and that will be worthwhile to keep an eye on in the coming years, is the German OER example SERLO (so far only in German), presented by Simon Köhl . It is a free learning platform for students which offers thousands of mathematical problems solved, hundreds of articles and dozens of exams with answers in math. What makes it interesting is not so much the content (most of it could be easily ‘googled’) but the collaborative character of its participants on an open platform that offers the possibility to anyone to develop new material and contribute with one’s own skills and interests. In fact, it is prevalently created by high school students, not only by instructors. Everyone can post problems with its solution and articles and everyone can edit the content of others too, without being a teacher or necessitating of degrees and titles. I believe that it will be this bottom up approach that will sooner or later reshape the function of the teacher or university professors.  The time will come were they will be no longer the exclusive providers of content, maybe they will even not create it, whereas their main function will become that of a tutor or facilitator, in the process of acquiring knowledge.

The third event that attracted my attention was the concluding keynote by Neil Butcher, the director of Neil Butcher & Associates and member of the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE), who gave a talk (in English) about “OER and the social imperative for educational transformation: what are the priorities?” He got to the point I was looking for (and that unfortunately, also in OER13, was still considered a marginal aspect): how we should reconsider learning, teaching, the relationship between teachers and students, didactics and pedagogy to fully exploit IT beyond its potentials as mere information delivery systems. Here I felt much resonance with the ideals of a FPU, even though he didn’t mention it in the frame of higher education.

Personally I enjoyed OER13 also because it was the first time I participated at barcamps (or ‘unconferences’), i.e open, participatory workshop-events, where the content of which is provided by participants. And overall the impression was that we are still at the beginning of a revolution, which was clearly perceptible in the halls of it. I’m already looking forward at OER14….

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