After we (@pragmaticfix, @bildungsmann, @MiiBlinn, @olewin) had the opportunity to attend an event organized by the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung on the eve of the #OER conference and ask whether basically #OER wasn’t just another here-today gone-tomorrow overrated buzzword (No, thank heavens, it’s not!), we were even keener to get down to some serious debate with other proponents of #OER at the Wikimedia-Konferenz/BarCamp. But first congratulations are in order to Sebastian Horndasch and the team at Wikimedia for staging an immaculately organized conference with an exciting agenda!
Stop demonizing kids using media!
After short welcome addresses by Professor Jürgen Friedrich of the steering committee of Wikimedia Deutschland e.V. and Verena Metze-Mangeld, vice-president of the German Commission for UNESCO, to our relief Thomas Krüger president of the Federal Agency for Civic Education lost no time in getting down to those issues which – particularly since the launch of the Digital Agenda – should really be galvanizing education policy in Germany – and which have conspicuously failed to do so. He raised such points as – it’s high time we stopped demonizing young people and school kids using smartphones and instead should try step by step to embed these communication tools in classrooms and vocational training opportunities. He argued that of course we should be just as sensitive to the fears and anxieties of the teaching staff as we are to those of the students, but we should also try and imbue teachers with a positive attitude to the tools. Obviously, use of collaborative tools in the classroom would only be the first step. In a long-term perspective we have to look for ways that allow us to combine and integrate digitization and teaching practice. Krüger was adamant that for him, transparency such as the #OER conference advocates, was the precondition for the knowledge-based participation of citizens in the political decision-making process.
Germany comes in last
With a wealth of facts and figures, in his paper Professor Dirk van Damme of the OECD put the meat on the bones of Krüger‘s appeal which was more by nature of a wakeup call. Fixing his sights on the below par level of digitization in the German education system (Germany comes in last in a European comparison of digital media use), van Damme argued that Germany’s need to stop dragging its feet and catch up was a consequence of the fact that digitization also brings a process of fundamental social innovation with it in which roles change; responsibilities and jurisdictions are questioned and the focus on what’s relevant shifts. (Yes, it does indeed! you feel like crying in exasperation at the constantly repeated mantra that digitization is only a question of technology and tools etc.) Even so, van Damme stopped short of making the logical connection between innovation and demographics. His strategic proposal for German policy-making and the cast of actors in the education sector was built on a number of points: teachers should be trained to use the tools and not be left to cope on their own when introducing these tools to the classroom. The quality of #OER content needs tighter assurance if its credibility is not to be impaired. At the same time he argued that improvements in the quality in learning content and learning methods would also lead to higher learning effectiveness; the resultant savings in time and effort would be totally to the benefit of students. Both teachers and political actors must become aware that non-automated and non-manual activities with constantly changing skill-set requirements are set to play a much bigger role on the job market of the future. In future, character building will outweigh maintenance of discipline; dealing with disruption will be more prized than the exercise of routine; consumers of knowledge will become producers of knowledge; and solutions will be valued more than merely pointing out the problems.
What we need is an #OER policy, not a digital curiosity cabinet
In his session Professor Michael Kerres addressed the procedural and technical challenges involved in the consistent long-term production and use of #OER. One of the most tricky challenges appears to be synchronizing the decentralized approach used in the production of #OER with intra-server and inter-server architectures. In short: how can we ensure that content is up-to-date on all participating servers, and where, and under what conditions, should such content be stored? Models have been tested where access for teachers and students to individual platforms has been designed to enable the content produced on them to be automatically collected and published under a CC license on all other relevant educational servers. Kerres underscored the key perception that mere willingness to produce #OER is not enough; much more important is a cast of independent actors.
In his session Markus Deimann painted the admonitory picture of a digital curiosity cabinet as the flip-side of transparency. With reference to the transfer of Foucault’s idea of the disciplinary powers of a society under observation to the principle of the radical openness of personal behavior, personal data and personal opinions, he turned his critical scrutiny on our uncritical adherence to the principles of transparency. Control of the individual through the permanent visibility of what they do and what they think sanctions “enforced conformity” by evaluating all preferences, values and opinions against the mean values of society. Without relinquishment of individual autonomy, he warned, there can be no participation in the Greater Whole. This would only lead to enforced equalization and constrained unity – not productive friction and diversity.
In his session Jan Neumann took on the task of defining the framework of a future #OER policy. For me the most important thing he said was that such a policy (for which there is still no institutionalized form) needs to be a mixture of top-down and bottom-up policy-making. The top needs to give the framework that nurtures further #OER development while the bottom should supply engagement together with production and distribution of content. In discussing this Neumann took a highly systemic approach, differentiating between the target group of consumers and the target group of decision-makers et al. For me at least, this was the very first time I’d heard of such a proposal for stretching the legislative mandate to make room for a new type of policy-making.
My own highly subjective summary of the conference (further reports from the colleagues mentioned above will follow)
- Such a large-scale event that explicitly encourages participation depends for its lifeblood on the commitment of the organizing team. So special thanks go to Sebastian Horndasch and his team of organizers for putting on a superb conference!
- #OER must leave the community space and get its message across to the non-community outside. To do this we need best practice examples which clearly show why transparency and participation pay dividends in economic terms, why they are morally superior, technically more sustainable and more forward looking – more fit to face the challenges the future brings. Members of the non-community will not readily accept transparency as a means in itself.
- Quality and participation, reform of the education system and the interests of publishing houses, teaching staff and local authorities are by no means diametrically opposed. All we need to do is start the conversation and try and gain a better understanding of what the other position actually is.
- Thus far #OER has been almost entirely viewed from the perspective of the “school”, the place of learning. Yet the “university and college” sector and the “vocational training” sector are significantly different in the ways they apply #OER. In this context a student’s comment gives some food for thought. He asked “Why is that content produced at university level – and financed by taxpayers’ money – isn’t generally available under a CC license?” And he’s right. Of course it’s pretty obvious that the “operating model” of vocational training has a different type of structure to that of the publically financed university sector. Even so, this is an issue that sooner or later all those involved in vocational training will have to face.
- Digitization without the involvement and adaption of familiar methods of education and learning just doesn’t make sense. Technology alone (one laptop per child) cannot be the answer to digitization.