15 March 2013
What I've been up to at La Trobe
Recently we did something for Open Education Week. A small group of people from different areas across the University managed to pull off what must have been the most open and transparent event La Trobe has ever seen. In the busiest time of the year for teachers, we manage to pack out the space continuously for the entire day. That says a lot for the interest in open education here. But, it was the only Australian event for Open Education Week, which is somewhat concerning.. suggesting to me that while there is interest from staff, central support units are missing it.. again.
My work in the Faculty of Health Sciences is to help teachers and course coordinators imagine, design and implement curriculum and content development. Most of that work can't be shown because university systems preference closed practice. But the open side of the work can be shown, and its the bit I find most rewarding. I'm trying to keep track of the open education work we've been doing in Wikiversity. For example, a team of educational content developers uploaded video on the Wikipedia article for Vertometer. I hope they will review the export quality though. People who work in the disability health sector will soon publish incredibly valuable videos of people living with disabilities, which we hope will demystify their lives some and help improve awareness and the quality of services to them. This team held a forum recently, and the presenters agreed for their recordings to go to Wikiversity.
I find that using Wikiversity helps facilitate a whole range of considerations, from copyright and openness, to audience and communication.. not to mention an awareness of alternative approaches to online education and development. We're having conversations about simple English, the risks and value of transparency, the opportunities in open access, and the principles that might guide us into this way of practice. So far, I couldn't have hoped for a better response.
Using Wikiversity presents a number of challenges though, not simply answered by professional development events, and not limited to the perception of it being an external platform. The university systems are so dense and complex in their own right, that suggesting any change or adaptation is not feasible. Most people simply don't have the time to even learn the existing systems well! Workloads for academic staff are already at maximum, so I can only suggest some things be stopped, and this thing be done instead. Ideally, there would be enough spare time to allow for research and wide ranging professional development, but there simply isn't. Introducing open educational practices in the absence of any system or support for developing that, necessitates an alternative approach.
To address this in a more acceptable way though, I'm continuously looking for ways to reduce busy work. There are atrocious forms upon forms that could be streamlined and improved for example, and simplifying them would free up a small amount of time at particular times in the year. But that's a drop in the ocean of tsunamis pounding academic professions these days. I estimate 60% of time needs to be freed if we are going to expect teaching academics to make time for research and/or adequate professional development. This is a mountain that some see as impossible!
But in preparation for a miracle, I've been drafting up a professional development program for teachers of health professionals. It is attempting to enable and enhance informal learning, while at the same time setting up more formal channels as well. I'm proposing that badging be trialed, but response has been cool. And I've been using Wikiversity and Wikipedia as development platforms, instead of Word and the Intranet. At some stage we'll have to confront the digital divide this creates.. and I think we'll have to choose between closed and open, and honestly consider the risks and costs of them both.