Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Open Educational Practices - Expert meeting of OPAL project @ UNESCO - Paris

On Monday and Tuesday, I participated in the "Research workshop on Open Educational Practices" hosted by the OPAL project at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The workshop was chaired by Ulf Ehlers (University of Essen-Duisburg and project co-ordinator) and Grainne Conole (Professor at Open University). It's been an intensive, but very informative and interesting two days. I got to meet a number of interesting people in our plenary and group discussions, and I bumped into Tom Wambeke, whom I hadn't spoken to in quite some time.
The workshop centered around reviewing, commenting and refining the current OPAL model of Open Educational Practices, and it was organised mainly as small group sessions, in which the participants were asked to answer 5 questions, after which the groups reported. Tim Unwin's brilliant blogpost has mindmaps summarising that discussion, so I'll focus on my own learning points:

For me, some of the more fundamental issues were
  • How do we define Open Educational Practices (OEP)? I felt that there was a consensus amongst the participants that OEP is broader than just practices involving OER, and that it relates to 'openness of teaching practice, learning envronment and educational resources' (Chris Pegler on Twitter).
  • Do we need specific practices for Open Educational Resources (OER), or can we make do with practices regarding 'Educational resources' in general? I share Susan D'Antoni's concern that we must avoid focusing too much on content as the Holy Grail. Let's not replace a 'technology push' within education with a 'content push'.
  • Building on that idea, should we focus on content when we talk about OEP, or should we focus more on learning activities or learning conversations that make use of resources? In that light, I like the CELSTEC view that learning content - artefacts as we label them - are an inherent part of a learning network, but in the sense of social artefacts, not as static, finalised bits of explicit - often factual - knowledge, eg. this working paper by Wigman, Hermans & Verjans (2009).
  • Our discussion group on Monday concluded that "Context, not content is KING", later changed to "Context is QUEEN". The background for stating this so strongly was that it is important to primarily consider the stakeholders' context (national, cultural, educational, etc.) before looking at other aspects of OEP, such as the main dimensions in the OPAL model: strategy, tools, skills.
View from UNESCO meeting room

All in all, it has been a fruitful 2-day meeting, supplemented by an active online discussion on Twitter and Cloudworks, which also produced a set of quite interesting and relevant external links and references. My follow-up from this meeting will be to
- continue to act as an external expert
- be a 'national ambassador' for both The Netherlands and Belgium
- to stay active within the wider OPAL community.

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