The Chinese National Top Level Courses Project



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Typology of Open Educational Resources based on their purpose


There are many models for developing Open Educational Resources, and this is partly because the goals of the various projects are different. To make this clearer, I propose a typology of Open Educational Resources based on their purpose. When people develop Open Educational Resources, they make many decisions regarding format, scope, organization, licensing and so on, and these are informed by the purpose the resource is to fulfill, as well as technological and organizational limitations. After publication, the resource can be used in many other ways by different users, indeed one of the strengths of the open licenses is to enable this kind of unexpected use and reuse, however the original purpose is still a useful guide. To be clear about the purpose is not only important for the design of the project, but is also a necessity for any rigorous evaluation to take place.

It will be useful to think of the development of Open Educational Resources as fulfilling four very broad purposes: transformative production, direct use, reuse, and transparency/


consultation. These categories are inspired by and expand upon Caulfield’s (2009) distinction between openness as reuse, and openness as transparency. Which of the purposes are seen as most important, will have an impact on what kind of resources are produced, and how they are produced.

By transformative production, I mean that the process of producing the resource in itself has a transformative effect upon the people involved in the production process. Just as the purpose of writing an essay in school is not to generate a large amount of finished essays, but rather in the effect on the person writing the essay, this category suggests that the purpose of the production of open resources, or the opening of existing resources, is the effect it will have on those involved. This effect is always present even unintentionally, and could be positive – where teachers put more efforts into their teaching, because they know they are being filmed – or negative – when teachers abstain from experimenting in class, because they are afraid of having their failures caught on tape. However, this category covers projects that have this transformative effect as their main goal for the production of open resources. It is different from the three that follow, which all pertain to the resources after they have been produced.

By direct use, I mean that the student can visit the resource and use it to learn independently. This means that the resource would ideally contain all the material needed to learn, ie. be complete. The resource should also be developed for the web, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by interactive quizzes, simulations, games, and other mechanisms. Developing this material might be expensive, and it should be clearly targeted to a specific group. A good example in this category is the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative courses (see for example Dollar and Steif 2008).

By reuse, I mean that the material can be modified, redacted, and integrated with other material. In this case, the student does not directly access the material, but the access is mediated through an intermediary — for example a teacher, or a curriculum developer. In this case, the material needs to be openly licensed, so that the transformation is legal. Material in this category does not need to be complete, or targeted to a specific group, since it will be repurposed. The material in this category is often not organized as an entire course, but as a large collection of small modules. The material should ideally be available in file formats that are easy to modify by the user. A good example in this category is Rice University’s Connexions project, which uses small modules, an open XML file format, obligatory open licensing, a built-in system for derivation and attribution, and a flexible system for quality review to facilitate reuse and the creative building upon other’s work (Baraniuk 2008).

By transparency/consultation, I mean that the material will not be used directly by learners, nor will it be “reused” or repurposed by intermediaries. Rather, it will be available for people who are interested in learning about how a given class is taught. This could be other teachers, who wish to get inspiration about different ways of teaching the same thing, or students who are planning to choose a major, and would like to know what a given subject entails. It could inspire other teachers, or even provide materials for a comparative curriculum study. This requires material that reflects as closely as possible what actually happens in the classroom, or material that is distributed to students in a normal situation. The OpenCourseWare projects are good examples of this category, and so are the open textbook repositories in India and Indonesia (Ghosh and Das 2006; Hariyanto 2009).

World institutionalism and policy borrowing


At the 2008 Open CourseWare Consortium conference in Dalian, China, representatives from universities in many different countries were gathered to report on the progress, and share their experiences with opening up access to their course materials. Chinese researchers shared statistics on how large a percentage of students were aware of OpenCourseWare, Japanese professors showcased their latest OpenCourseWare semantic search tool, and Mexican researchers from the Tecnologico de Monterey showcased applications for mobile learning. The concept of OpenCourseWare had decidedly gone global.

This would seem to support the idea that national education systems are converging globally. The view that there is a clear trend towards increased similarity in values and system design as the result of worldwide emerging models is held by Meyer, Boli, Thomas, and Ramirez (1997, 145), who state that

worldwide models define and legitimate agendas for local action, shaping the structures and policies of nation-states and other national and local actors in virtually all of the domains of rationalized social life — business, politics, education, medicine, science, even the family and religion.

Applied to higher education, world institutionalism predicts a growing trend towards isomorphism, rather than divergence, in higher educational systems (Meyer, Ramirez, Frank and Schofer 2006). This theory proposes that educational systems are not only converging in structure, organization and content, but also in such values of education as views of progress and social justice. The fact that 39 countries are currently members of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, and have universities that publish courses openly and share teaching materials freely, could be seen as further proof that global values and institutions are converging (OpenCourseWare Consortium 2010a).

However, this theory is not without critics. Anthropologist Anderson-Levitt (2003) criticizes convergence theories for taking global schooling models at face value, and Schriewer and Martinez (2004, 33) similarly believes that we have to look below the surface, and the terms employed, to see whether they are actually describing the same reality:

There is a convergence of educational reforms, but perhaps it is only at the level of brand names, that is, in the language of reform. Once a discourse is transplanted from one context to another and subsequently enacted in practice, it changes meaning.

They also differentiate between internationalization as a real process, and internationality as a semantic construct that can be referred to selectively, according to the “changing problem constructions internal to a given educational system” (Schriewer and Martinez 2004; Silova 2009). They show how policy borrowing does not happen systematically, for example following a simple centre-periphery model, but rather is structured by the needs and discourses in any relevant society. References to educational innovations in other nations are often employed as a rhetorical tool to promote change that is desirable by certain groups. To discover these processes, the multi-country statistical analysis often performed by the world institutionalist group has to be complemented by very fine-grained analyses of individual cases of educational borrowing, taking into account the local context, including culture, history, power structures and discourse.

In her book Educational import: local encounters with global forces in Mongolia, Steiner-Khamsi and Stolpe (2006) discuss global educational policy borrowing through the lens of Mongolia. They show how the government uses the language of modern Western innovations, but does not change its actual practices on the ground. This is similar to what Schriewer and Martinez (2004) describe as using “Ausland als Argument”. In many cases, the Mongolian government had to adopt the language of the donors, for example applying for funding for girl-child education, even if girls were far outperforming boys in school already. In other settings, a government will refer to external examples to lend legitimacy to their policy decisions, in some cases even “borrowing policy” even though the practices are already being carried out locally. In some cases, the terminology is adapted to lend credibility to desirable programs nationally, and in other cases, to receive funding from donors with specific priorities (Steiner-Khamsi 2004).

In chapter four and five, I will give a detailed account of the historical background and context in which the Top Level Courses Project was conceived, and the details surrounding the project. I will then compare it to the OpenCourseWare model, using both the typology proposed above, as well as the theories on world institutionalism and its critiques discussed just above.

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