Monthly Archives: October 2006

OCW Announcement and the Economy of Free Content

Two days ago, the OU has announced the launch of its OpenLearn website. This will allow free world-wide access to vast learning ressources from the OU’s well established and renowned courses. It thereby follows the MIT and its OpenCourseWare initiative started in 2001 by giving away content for free.

My own university has a become a member of the Global OpenCourseWare Consortium back in May this year. The original reasoning behind the local OCW initiative was the “noble public cause”. The view of being a public HE institution, paid by the public, working for the public, has been a moral driver. Teamed with the insight that content doesn’t sell anyway, this opened the door for producing and making available content and course structure for free.

However, we are struggling! It’s easy to give away your content for nothing if you have a budget of 5.65m Pounds as in the OU’s case, or similar for MIT. Not so for us. With our pocket money budget we had to learn that it is quite cost intensive to adapt content for OCW. Additionally, our budget does not make headlines or allow for broad marketing – which may be the greatest returns to the institution for their offerings.

The biggest overhead is staff cost, and let’s face it, academics are not keen to give away their stuff or edit it for a global audience. Hard personal persuation and pushy enthusiasm led to some smallish successes. It also emerged that there is no real user market for our courses as the biggest consumers of OCW are the poorer countries and they are not normally looking for courses through the medium of German. In summary then, there was not enough money to make the news or a difference to the authoring processes, no audience and no real drivers.

We still keep going with OCW, but with a slightly different focus. Rather than seeing it as a publication mechanism that produces respect for what we do, we look at our internal audience hoping to provide showcases for lecturers.


ID management

Interesting presentations at the EIfEL ePortfolio2006 conference in Oxford. Three models of identity management were presented:

  • Shibboleth
  • Liberty Alliance
  • OpenID

Shibboleth has somewhat been overtaken in popularity by Liberty Alliance recently, but what are they and what have they to offer?

All of them have one thing in common, they provide access to distributed services starting from a specific (personal) ID space, which could be your office network. Intrinsically, this is an admission to Web 2.0 social networks, where individuals desire access to a variety of services and resources that are available through more than one organisation or service provider. No longer is one organisation expected to provide all services in one place.

Shibboleth is largely based on trust federations, where service providers agree to share services. In a way this is also true for the other two, but there the individual plays a bigger role. Liberty Alliance offers a federation framework that allows single sign-on, just as Shib does, but additionally provides person services. These allow the user to invite others to their services (e.g. view or contribute to a photo album) without becoming a member of the service themselves. OpenID is a kind of light weight ID system that builds up a server trust list and integrates a set of services with login, e.g. federated cross-application search within your “user-spaces”.

The challenge as I perceive it – but may well be wrong – is that each of the systems needs to be integrated with the application they serve. Similar developments have led to applications offering multiple services that do the same thing. Look at the right hand buttons for blogging options with MyYahoo, Bloglines, MyMSN, etc. with orange feed buttons that say XML, RSS, ATOM, etc. on them – too confusing to learn to distinguish (user), too expensive to provide for all customers (provider).


In e-learning, assessment has so far been on the sidelines and in blended learning settings even more so. Changing the assessment culture is a lengthy process and lots of articles have been written about it. In academia this is paired with a traditional scepticism for multiple choice tests. The argument here is that MCQs do not test critical thinking skills or academic expressionism, skills that for a scientific career are seen as key.

An interesting workshop by Rhena Delport from the University of Pretoria at the recent IEEE ICL conference provided some deeper insight into assessment processes. Rhena made us all reflect on our own teaching and assessment by mapping our anticipated learning outcomes and assessment questions/methods to pedagogic concepts, especially Blooms Taxonomy.

It turned out that my approach to assessment (only) mapped onto a minority of the defined UK National Curriculum Thinking Skills. These are five:

(1) Information processing
(2) Reasoning
(3) Enquiry
(4) Creative thinking
(5) Evaluation

Of course, there may not be a single question that mapps onto all the skills, but I found it a useful reflective exercise to evaluate the territory covered by a full exam. My guts feeling says it would be good to not being one-sided and spread testing evenly across the 5 skills.


Tried PhotoShow today and it’s marvellously easy to compile a slide show. Requires broadband access for ideal viewing though. See where I got to in five minutes:


Click logo for creating your own slide show.