OTTER-SAIDE partnership

23 September 2009

Today Ale and I had an online meeting with Jenny Glennie and Tessa Welch (Director and Programme Specialist respectively) of SAIDE, the South African Institute for Distance Education. The purpose was to explore the possibility of collaborating on the publication of an open educational resource, ‘Supporting Distance Learning’, produced by SAIDE, and making it available as an OTTER OER. We very quickly arrived at agreement on this goal, and spent the rest of the meeting discussing the details of licensing, branding, and actually ‘OTTER-ising’ the materials. The resource is currently on a temporary site and will soon be located on the OERAfrica repository.

The original book, published in 1998

The original book, published in 1998

I should perhaps state my personal interest in this particular OER. The website, ‘Supporting Distance Learners’, is the updated version of a book by the same name published by SAIDE in 1998, both of which I had a hand in writing. The earlier version, which was co-authored with Suzanne Smythe, was written before online education had taken off in South Africa, and was largely a manual for tutors on how to support their learners in a traditional ‘correspondence’ type of setting, with occasional face-to-face tutorials. The current, web-based version is a completely different beast, and is aimed at helping tutors get to grips with the online tools at their disposal to provide effective support for their learners.

This is not the first OTTER OER to have been produced by a Leicester staff member while under contract to another institution – for example, we have just received IPR clearance from the University of Southampton for the inclusion of a great resource on phonology and phonetics written by Pam Rogerson-Revell from the School of Education at Leicester. However, it is OTTER’s first international partnership.

The benefit to the University of Leicester is that this resource will complement several others in the OTTER collection that are aimed at educators working in an online environment. It will also increase our ability to share knowledge (both ways) with the educator community in developing countries, which is a major aspect of the OTTER vision.

The benefits to SAIDE are: a potentially increased target audience for the resource, as well as the opportunity for the materials to undergo a rigorous evaluation by the OTTER team – they will be checked for pedagogical quality, for IPR/copyright issues, and for any formatting glitches. (And considering that I’m not a disinterested party, this prospect is somewhat scary to me… Please go easy, Sahm, Tania and Simon!)

I’m delighted to have brought two of my favourite work families together in this partnership, and thoroughly looking forward to the SAIDE-OTTER collaboration.

Gabi Witthaus



21 September 2009

Last week, we from the OTTER team made a working visit to the BERLiN project in Nottingham. The purpose of our visit was to explore with the BERLiN team issues of common interest and concern around OERs.

We also wanted to use the opportunity to learn more about the U-Now, Xpert, and Xertes platforms and discuss our role in the forthcoming Open Learning conference being planned by the BERLiN team for November 2009. Another focus of our meeting was FAQs on OERs.

The meeting was very fruitful and we came away with a sense of reassurance about our individual projects. Whilst there were many similarities of approach we also found some differences.

Key issues OTTER BERLiN
Subject disciplines Nine subject disciplines across the University of Leicester Small representation of OERs from all 32 Schools of the University
Credit weighting Notional measurement of credit weighting Use of “module framework” to measure credits
Transformation of materials Use of the CORRE framework for gathering, enhancing and validating OERs An ongoing conversation approach between the academics and the BERLiN team.
Validation of OERs Internal validation of OERs with UoL partners, students followed by external validation with other educator and students outside of the university Validation of OER through an editorial board made up of a PVC, Director of teaching and learning, head of Elearning and other academics
Copyright Use of blanket CC license – Copy-distribute-share alike. Use of blanket CC license for U-Now OERs and variable licenses for materials on Xpert
Academic engagement Use of subject teams to sell and promote the OTTER project Use of academic to academic contact and email communication. Also the VC is doing a podcast to endorse the OER programme.
Reward and recognition Individual biographical information on all the OERs Individual biographical information and also promotion of the social responsibility angle of OERs
External links Links with SAIDE Partnership with OER Africa

We plan to make other working visits to other UK OER programmes in the next coming weeks. Stay tuned for more OER lessons learnt.

Samuel Nikoi

CORRE: A framework for transforming teaching materials into OERS

28 August 2009

We have been developing further the detailed CORRE framework, and thought it might be useful to post it in summary form for comments (click on the image for a larger version):

compact_corre copy

The rigorous attention to detail in the CORRE model can be seen in the accompanying CORRE Detailed Checklist, the detailed and specific workflow tool used by the OTTER team. Please note that this checklist may not be as transferable as the “broad brush-stroke” model shown above, and may require adaptation for use in different contexts.

Samuel Nikoi

Increasing institutional web presence: the OER impact factor

18 August 2009

Last month webometrics, which ranks world universities based on global performance and web visibility, was published. The ranking has been published twice each year since 2004 and covers over 17,000 higher educational institutions worldwide.

The ranking, which measures visibility of HE institution, has as one of its main objectives the motivation of institutions and scholars to have a web presence that accurately reflects their activities, especially those related to the processes of generating and communicating scientific knowledge.

The methodology used by webometrics for arriving at a web impact factor (WIF), and hence a rank, include

  • link analysis (i.e. the number of external in-links)
  • the number of pages of a website
  • the number of documents from rich files in a web domain
  • the number of publications collected through Google Scholar database.

Not too surprisingly, MIT came first in the world ranking and this has been directly linked to its huge OpencourseWare programme. UK universities that featured in the top 100 include Cambridge, Oxford, The Open University, Nottingham and Leeds, all of which have vibrant open educational resource (OER) programmes. The same reason, i.e. open access initiative, is reported to account for the improved performance in the league table of other European universities in Norway, Spain and Portugal.

Whilst the methodology for generating data for ranking the Universities can be queried, the fact cannot be ignored that institutional open access policy initiatives, aimed at promoting and increasing the volume and quality of electronic publications of an institution, is an important factor in web visibility and hence contributes to the perceived quality of education and academic prestige of that institution.

We are encouraged by such news to press on with OTTER. Hopefully, the University of Leicester, which currently is ranked 383, will improve its rating in future webometrics.

Samuel Nikoi

OER Evaluator

OERs save time for learning designers

17 August 2009

This morning I spoke at the National Association of Distance Education and Open Learning in South Africa (NADEOSA) annual conference. In my presentation, I looked at the landscape for open and distance learning in the 21st century, with a particular focus on the issues for developing countries in terms of resources, connectivity, etc. (As if to drive home the point, the Skype connection between Leicester and Pretoria kept dropping!)

One of the ‘threads’ in the tapestry I described was Open Educational Resources, which I believe can enable educators to produce high quality teaching materials both cost-effectively and within reasonable time frames. The audience picked up on this point in the Q&A session:  the importance of critically reviewing OERs before using them was noted, and some concern was expressed about the time involved in finding suitable OERs and modifying them for the context in which you teach.

Tony Mays from SAIDE/UNISA then made a great point: he described two studies that had been carried out in different parts of Africa. These studies found that, whereas designing learning materials from scratch took an average of 100 hours per notional learning hour, sourcing and modifying OERs took only 40-60 hours. Still time-consuming, but a significant saving.

Does anyone know of other studies to this effect?

Gabi Witthaus

Links or files: further

13 August 2009

Nick at Unicycle raises an interesting point about whether to upload to JorumOpen only links if the resources already exist online.

I remember this was also raised at the startup meeting in June.

Here at OTTER we’re going to upload both links and resources. One of our OER partners  at Leicester is the Virtual Genetics Education Centre in the Department of Genetics. VGEC already have a superb collection of OERs hosted by themselves.

OTTER will be taking a selection of these OERs and running them through Sahm’s workflow process. Some of them will change as a result. For example, OTTER will make some of the VGEC videos available as downloadable mp4 chunks to be viewed on an iPod/iPhone.   

As an example, watch the video on Using a micropipette. Being able to refer to this video, or parts of it, on a handheld device in the lab would seem to make it a very useful resource.

So we intend to upload both the VGEC link to the full video plus the various files we produce (which will also include the full video). Visitors to JorumOpen can decide which resource best fits their needs. (Of course, we’ll also replicate this on our Plone site.)

VGEC, who are already producing some excellent OERs, came on board for a number of reasons. However, two important ones were accessing JorumOpen and having other pairs of eyes run over the existing material.

It’s considerably more work to upload files as well as links, but the benefits to the user are considerable, especially in terms of untethering and re-purposing. 

It may not always be feasible and worthwhile for all OERs (i.e. a link may be the best option), but setting out with the idea of  providing both the files and the link  to JorumOpen seems the best starting point, and our experience thus far is bearing this out.

I’d be interested to hear what others think.


Learning Technologist

OTTER in August and September

11 August 2009

I’ve just returned from a week’s leave, during which my fellow OTTERs have been as busy as usual.

Ale and I had a successful meeting this morning with the Department of Media  and Communication here at UoL to bring them on-board as additional OER partners. In fact, we’ve had to put a moratorium on further partner recruitment simply to allow us time to process (or OTTERise) the excellent materials we already have.

We’ve also had our first planning meeting for our internal dissemination event, scheduled for late September. Each of us will outline our individual roles to the delegates. We will also have a number of OERs in various formats and from a range of subjects to display.

We anticipate that this afternoon event will have two main functions: first, to explain the reasoning behind OERs and thereby (hopefully) allay the fears of academics who may, at present, be unconvinced; and second, to showcase the work of the OTTER project.

Further down the road, we’re hoping to meet up with our partner projects, perhaps by holding joint events, and certainly some of us will be taking up Steve’s offer to attend Nottingham’s OER conference later this year.  Apart from the other benefits, this would be an excellent opportunity to listen to representatives of OER Africa.

So plenty happening, as always. And looking forward to seeing everyone on the metadata 2nd Tuesday event today!

Simon Kear

Student Engagement

30 July 2009

Now that we have Sahm’s final, super duper CORRE workflow template to put our learning materials through, our discussions during the past few days have taken a step back from the intricacies of the materials themselves, and centred more on our current status in terms of gathering materials, and, for those that we have, what stage they are at in the workflow.

It quickly became clear to us that we are quite advanced in CORRE with some materials, and therefore we should start making some concrete plans to validate the materials with a view to releasing them. 

Gabi produced some wonderful charts and a timetable which were discussed in our Project Meeting yesterday, and following on from that today we met with Alex Smith, our Student Representative and the University’s Academic Affairs Officer.  

During the meeting it transpired that Alex had actually used an element of MIT’s OpenCourseWare during his studies and he was incredibly enthusiastic about the usefulness and benefits of such materials, which is wonderful news for us. We hope that once the OTTER materials are available for download, students will be as excited by them as Alex was about his experience of MIT!

Overall we felt the meeting was extremely useful and we are all positive that Alex can help us both establish contact with the student community to allow us to engage them in recruiting students for the impending initial reality checking process, and help us fine tune our scheduling so that we can ensure we get maximum take up from the student population.

Tania Rowlett

30 July 2009

From “CORRE” to “OER”: a framework for evaluating learning materials

29 July 2009

We in OTTER have been working on the development of a workflow framework that shows the process of turning our learning material into publicly usable OERs.

Bearing in mind that the material we receive from our partners were not “born” OER, we are keen that our framework addresses the pedagogical, legal, technical, institutional and socio-cultural dimensions of turning existing teaching materials into Open Educational Resources.

Our framework – CORRE – is informed by existing literature on OERs and internal consultation with our UoL partners and the BDRA team.

There are four main aspects of the framework, each of which is defined by a set of criterion that are then matched to a set of indicative evidence. I describe briefly the elements of the framework.

Stage 1: Content

This refers to the materials we receive from UoL partners “as-it-is”. There are two types of activities associated with “content-in”.

First the process of gathering materials from our partners, getting them to sign up to the project, checking that there are no gaps in the materials they supply to us and estimating the credit weighting of each.

The second activity is an assessment of the material in terms of the type of content, medium, structure, language and pedagogy.

Stage 2: Openness

This reflects the legal, pedagogical and technical perspectives of the process. The criterion involve IPR clearance, transformation and digitization. We ask specific questions around each of these criteria such as: identifying right holders; aspects of the content that need to be removed or replaced; and whether the learning material could be made available in a mix of formats.

Stage 3: Reuse/Repurpose

Reuse and repurpose are about the learning materials achieving actual OER status through a process of validation. This involves first the OTTER team, followed by our UoL partners and finally the end-users: students to get the learner voice plus educators inside and outside the UK. This stage reflects socio-cultural perspectives of the OER.

Stage 4: Evidence

The final stage is evidence. Our framework is designed to assess the value and usefulness of the OER through a process of tracking using an end-user survey mechanism. We ask questions such as the identity of the user, the value of the OER, what adaptations have been made to the OER and challenges experienced accessing and using it.

Such feedback would be useful for sustainability and also for making the business case of how we move forward with the future development of OERs.

Samuel Nikoi


Plans for early trialling of OTTER OERs

15 July 2009

Tania and I  really enjoyed yesterday’s 2nd Tuesday Elluminate session on  evaluation and  synthesis (we’re both new to the software) and found it very useful. It seemed to work really well, and was probably more productive than a physical meeting of 24 would have been. So many thanks to our moderators for the skillful moderating!

It was great to hear from the other teams, and  I really appreciated the helpful tips on measuring traffic and downloads, both of which have been causing me a little concern recently. It sounds like we’re all doing well in our projects.

Tania and I enthusiastically reported back to the other OTTERs this morning (all of whom will listen to the recording). Mainly, though, our short meeting was to map out our immediate plans.

Using Sahm’s workflow process, we’re planning to finalize a small number of OERs from five subject areas by the end of August. These will be presented first to the partners and then to a small validation team of potential users (students and educators), who will utilize our nascent feedback system. In addition, for this small pilot validation exercise, we will have a focus group for each type of user.

We will pull together all the information from this exercise – some of which I’m sure will include useful criticism and areas where we can improve the process and the OERs themselves – and present it at our first dissemination event in September. This will be an internal presentation to UoL staff on OERs and OTTER.

We intend that this event will raise the institutional profile of OERs and will increase the motivation of academics to participate, which was one of the topics of yesterday’s session. (It will also allow us to assess academic support as it stands at the time, based on attendance and the questions asked.)

An important part of this will be the next 2nd Tuesday event on metadata, which Sahm – who is currently on his way to Edge Hill University for tomorrow’s event – and Gabi will attend, with myself as an observer. I told Sahm how useful the brief side-discussion on metadata had been.

We have much to do, and will continue to share with you all anything we think you might find useful.