Saturday, December 31, 2011

Classification of research designs

Quantitative researchers have developed different types of research designs to facilitate their studies. Their research procedures include organization of the variables, selection of samples, schedule for data collection and techniques for statistical analysis.

Similarities between research designs have allowed to to classify them in various types. The criteria of the use of experiment have allowed to classify the designs in experimental and non-experimental research.  In non- experimental design the researcher studies existing phenomena without intervention in the structure of these phenomena. On the other hand the experimental design require some kind of experiment with the intervention of the researcher. The various types of non-experimental design are: descriptive, causal-comparative and correlational.

Research designs are also classified according to their purpose. Educational studies are undertaken according to four different purposes: description, prediction, improvement and explanation.

If the purpose is description, two types of research design can be used: descriptive and longitudinal. Descriptive research is used when phenomena are studied at one point in time. Longitudinal design is used to study changes that occur in phenomena over time.

If the purpose is prediction, correlational design is used.

When the purpose is explanation a causal-comparative design is used. The design involves finding cause and effect relationships between variables. Correlation and experimental design are also used. I would also add that descriptive design can be used because when you describe something you also explain it.

Finally if the purpose of the design is improvement, experimental design is used.  The reason why experimental design is used is because designing an intervention and following its effects is a kind of experiment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Statistical techniques

Definition of Statistics

Statistics are mathematical techniques  for analyzing numerical data to accomplish various purposes. For example the calculation of a mean leads to a single score that represents many scores such as the scores of all students who took a particular test.

Types of Statistics

There are four types of Statistics: descriptive, correlational, inferential and psychometric.

Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive Satistics are mathematical techniques for organizing and summarizing a set of numerical data. In Educational Research they are used to describe educational phenomena. They describe the score on a single variable

Correlational Statistics

Correlational Statistics are used to describe relationships between two or more variables.

Inferential Statistics

Inferential Statistics are mathematical techniques for using probabilities and information about a sample to draw conclusions about the population from which the sample originated.

Psychometric Statistics

They are Statistics used to describe the psychometric properties of tests and he appropriateness of information and uses of outcomes from tests and other measures.

Example of Statistical Analysis in a Research Study

Statistics are used in virtually all quantitative studies but in many qualitative studies also. An example is the case study of reading groups in a first grade classroom conducted by James Collins. The study was part of a large ethnographic study of language differences between working class black children and middle class white children in their home and school environments.

Types of Scores 

Measurements in educational research are expressed usually in three forms: continuous scores, ranks, or categories. It is important to understand the differences between the score types because the forms in which the scores are expressed reflect the choice of statistical analysis procedure. If the research data consist of continuous scores on two groups group differences are analyzed by calculating a mean score and a statistic known as t. However if the scores are in thew forms of categories the group differences are analyzed by a Chi-square test, which compares categories frequencies between two or more groups. There are 3 types of scores: continuous, age and grade equivalents and rank.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

E-learning in Africa and China

Submitted by Michael Trucano on Fri, 12/16/2011 - 11:26

Earlier this year, over 1700 participants from over 90 countries attended eLearning Africa (previous blog post here) to share lessons and make contacts at what has evolved into perhaps the continent's premier annual knowledge sharing event related to the use of ICTs in education. Not surprisingly, Tanzania led the way in terms of attendance by its nationals, followed by its East African neighbors, with South Africa and Nigeria not too far behind.

One nationality was largely noticeable through its absence: the Chinese.  Why do I mention this? Outside the conference, signs of growing cooperation between Tanzania and China (and India, whose Prime Minister was in Dar the same week on a state visit) were hard to miss, and indeed, the increasing 'presence' of China across Africa is undeniable, and the topic of much reporting, scholarly interest and discussion, including at the World Bank. Looking around the conference itself, this cooperation wasn't immediately in evidence related to international cooperation around the use of educational technologies.  Participating in and listening to many conversations at the event, however, one got a bit of a different story related to potential cooperation going forward between China and a number of African countries on ICT/education issues.

While comparatively few representatives from Chinese firms and organizations participated at eLA, after engaging in a few dozen informal discussions with many MOE staff, vendors and consultants, it is clear that Chinese support for the purchase of ICT infrastructure for schools will most likely increase greatly in the coming years.  Scattered existing examples of small cooperation were cited by many people as a harbinger of things to come.  Almost every ministry of education official with whom I spoke mentioned that they had contact of some sort with Chinese officials or partners around the use of computers in schools, and expected this to increase in the near term (many remarked on how this contrasted with their dialogue, or lack thereof, with most 'traditional' donors on this topic).

Why is this potentially important? The potential for 'South-South' knowledge exchange, something increasingly championed at the World Bank, is pretty clear. At a speech last year in China talking about China's achievements with Special Economic Zones and infrastructure development, the World Bank president noted that "African countries want to learn from such success, and China is ready to help." He continued: "China’s experience can be instructive for African countries.  It also suffered from infrastructure deficits at the beginning of its development process but succeeded in putting in place world-class infrastructure -- covering both urban and rural areas.  Africa may also draw from China’s attention to rural infrastructure as a way to improving productivity and overcoming poverty."

Discussions about 'Africa' often founder, given the (obviously) tremendous diversity in situations and circumstances across the continent.  The same can be said for discussions about 'China', given its large size and great diversity. While the results from Shanghai in the latest PISA round are the envy of much of the rest of the world, the relevance of mass school computerization efforts in rural Western China may well offer insights to some African policymakers that they might not get when talking with consultants drawing on the experience of ICT use in schools in, say, Toronto or Lyon or Manchester.

Despite what appears to be growing interest in cooperation between a number of African countries and Chinese partners on issues related to putting ICT infrastructure in schools, my anecdotal impression is that lessons from Chinese experiences in using technology in education are not well known outside of China. When I mention to ministries of education around the world that I spent a few years working on an ICT/education project in China near the start of the last decade, I am almost immediately bombarded with lots of questions.

One can postulate a number of reasons for this lack of knowledge about Chinese experiences with educational technologies, including the fact that things in China are simply happening so quickly, and as a result people have been too busy 'doing' to take the time to reflect and study this experience at great length. Of course, the same could be true of most other areas of development in China, but in some ways the educational technology field seems a bit anomalous in this regard, given the intense interest of academics and policymakers in learning from Chinese experience in so many other areas. Language is also no doubt an issue here, as recent Chinese experience with educational technologies is not well documented in English and other major international languages (and if anything, seems to me to have become comparatively less so in recent years).

Through outreach activities of groups like KERIS, and in part due to a variety of cooperation efforts between the Republic of Korea and the World Bank exploring a variety of ICT/education issues, the Korean experience is slowly becoming better known to policymakers throughout East Asia, and further afield in places like Colombia, Costa Rica and Uruguay as well.

Here's hoping that the Chinese experience will become better known as well.

Epistemological issues in Educational Research

Educational Research is not an unified enterprise. Two main approaches that are studied in Educational Research are known as Quantitative Research and Qualitative Research. Quantitative Research studies samples and populations and uses statistical analysis to represent data and model the relationships between them. Qualitative Research makes little use of statistical analysis and relies on verbal data and subjective analysis. The reason for these different approaches originates from the different epistemological issues underlying scientific inquiry.

Let's see what has preoccupied epistemologists for a certain period of time. First let's define the word epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of Philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge and how it is acquired and validated. The epistemologists interested in the natural and social sciences, also called philosophers of Science, have looked for answers to some very pertinent questions. These questions are so formulated: are the objects (neutrons, self-concept) studied by researchers real? How does research knowledge different from other forms of knowledge and does it have any authority? What is theory and how can it be validated? What does it signify to find laws enabling to predict individual and group behavior? Is inquiry in the social sciences different from the inquiry in the natural sciences?

Following their long investigations about these questions during many centuries they have established different schools of thought (empiricism, phenomenology, positivism, etc). Researchers have been influenced by these streams of thinking and have come up with their own epistemological views of how research should be conducted in different branches of social sciences (Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, etc). Educational researchers have their own epistemological approaches at this present time. Other Educational researchers have quite a different stand about these current issues and how they conduct their own research.

The model of Social Science Inquiry include the following elements:
A is the person being studied. This person's environment includes: a physical reality B and a social  reality C.
D is the researcher
E is the research report
F is the reader of the report.
This model can be illustrated by a diagram that can't be drawn here. In this diagram A, B, C, D, E and F are surrounded by ellipses. The diagram can be drawn in the following order:
On the right A is surrounded by an ellipse.
Above A on the left is the person's environment surrounded by an ellipse. Below this ellipse are B and C surrounded by an ellipse each: one on the left and the other on the right. Arrows relate the person's environment ellipse to ellipses B and C. This mini-diagram by itself shows that the person's environment is related to a physical reality B and a social reality C. In the first part of the diagram A, B and C are aligned.
Below between A and B is D
Below C  is E.
Below E is F so that D, E and F are aligned vertically. It is not important if someone cannot draw the diagram. The model is explained below and can be understood without the presence of a diagram.

One of the elements of the model in the diagram is the individual person designated by (A). Let's called her a teacher. The teacher interacts in an environment that is both physical (B) and social (C). The teacher uses a textbook which is a physical object made of ink and paper whose reality is defined by some chemical properties, The teacher uses this textbook to perform a social function which is to instruct students. Teacher's and students' roles are defined by society and constitute a social reality.

Educational researchers (D) and other social scientists such as Psychologists, Sociologists, Anthropologists, etc conduct investigations about  persons or group of persons, their environment or the interaction between people or group of people and their environment. For example Piaget study how children interact with their environment during different stages of their development. Some educational researchers study different social interactions in the classroom. Social scientists do not generally study physical reality although some might do. For example investigation has been conducted to study the relationship between the brain functions and the cognitive processes (attention, problem solving) while individuals work on intellectual tasks.

Following a study a research writes a report (E) about his findings, which is read by other individuals (F). These individuals can be other researchers, educational practitioners, policymakers, funders of the research. Different reports can be written for different audiences.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Open Education and challenges in higher education

 The growing interest in Khan Academy, MOOCs and Stanford University’s online courses has made many in higher education realize that clear divides don’t exist any longer. The boundaries are blurring between real and virtual spaces, formal and informal learning, teachers and learners
Learning is changing, but what of education? A couple of blog posts this  week questioning the value of going to university at all are probably just the first of many.
A number of educators have been discussing these issues, as practitioners:  the opportunities and challenges of open online education, the role of the university, and our role as educators. Following is an edited draft of some of these discussions.
The growth of open online learning over the past decade has been steady. Open content, often discussed in terms of OERs (Open Educational Resources), is defined as “materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone”. The key to OERs is that they are openly licensed and thus available for use by all. The argument for using OERs is clear: if every university teaches introduction to programming, for example, then why should we all develop materials to teach this? Why not use openly available, openly licensed, excellent material, and spend more of our time on activities such as engaging with students, developing improved assessment strategies, etc.
There are many excellent sources of OERs (Open Educational Resources), including the NDLR; MERLOT; MIT OCW; OU Learning Space; OER Commons; Khan Academy; Stanford University’s online courses and more.
In terms of open online learning, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and other video-based resources can be characterized as 1st generation, while the recent initiative by Stanford University, among others, can be considered 2nd generation, in that it includes not only learning materials, but instructional design, a learning structure and assessment – providing an experience closer to that provided within formal education. Stephen Downes recently suggested that the next generation will be widespread use of OERs along with automated, analytics-based, competency-based testing mechanisms, or open assessment. Indeed, this is precisely what OER university (OERu), among others, is setting out to do. Other open initiatives such as MOOCs and Open Badges have further potential to disrupt traditional higher education. Over 2000 people are currently participating in the #change11 MOOC “Change: Education, Learning and Technology”. Mozilla’s Open Badges project, particularly the DML competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, is currently gaining a huge amount of attention as well.
Our challenges as educators in the further and higher education sectors? Here are just a few:
Open resources – Most students are aware of open educational resources, and these are shared widely, e.g. Khan Academy, YouTube, MIT OCW, and the recent Stanford University online courses. As educators, what are we doing to create or link to relevant online resources for students? Creating screencasts, video lectures, audio or video podcasts (and making these openly available) or linking to OERs (and OER repositories) can supplement lectures and provide students with valuable material for study and revision. Just as we refer students to the best textbooks, journals and databases, we should link to excellent, relevant, online open educational resources. Our challenge here is to create and share material in new ways, learn to use different tools, and stay abreast of online learning developments.
Open, participatory and social media – Students use social media and social networks in many ways, not least to support their studies, e.g. DropBox, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter. Once again, as academic staff, we must look to our own practice. Are we making use of tools such as social bookmarking, social networking, web-based applications, and online curation tools to model good academic practice and to share resources with students, and with one another? Not all student work must be submitted directly and privately to the lecturer – opportunities for openness, sharing and collaboration should be considered.  We are challenged to consider using open, social tools (at least sometimes) – instead of closed, 1:1 tools – in order to open up the learning process and make it more authentic.
Emerging technologies – In the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile devices and e-books are the most current of the emerging technologies identified. How are we addressing these trends? The Horizon Report lists examples of education institutions innovating in these areas for teaching, learning and research. Even if we are not at the front of the innovation curve, we must address these emerging technologies in our programmes in a coordinated way, and communicate to our students and others how we are doing that. For example, how are we making use of mobile apps, or making our own learning content available on mobile devices? How are we facilitating students in using open access or e-textbooks?
Openness – In most undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, students are encouraged to examine their digital footprint and digital identity, and to consider the value of building a deliberate, positive, digital identity. This is a core element of digital literacies. Our students are visible to us online, and we are visible to them. As academic staff, are we open and positively visible online, as professionals? Are we modelling academic values in virtual spaces? The best way to share and publicise open educational resources is through the use of social media and social networks, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs. In order to communicate and share our work and our values, our challenge is to consider our approach to openness – as individuals, as departments, and as universities.

Application of Resarch to Educational Practice

Based on some observations Educational Practice cannot rely blindly on research. Both fields have their own goals. According to D.C Philips Research uses statement about what is and Educational Practice uses statements involving "ought to be". For example Research uses statement such as : "X is Y"; "the probability for X to have the feature Y is p". Practice uses statements such as: "Person A ought to do Z to person B". It is logical  that from statements involving the use of "is" conclusions about "ought" or "should" cannot be deduced.

Questions involving "is" can be well answered by educational research while those involving "ought to" imply the use of dialogue to solve them. Researchers cannot expect their findings about "is" to be transformed in immediate change without being criticized. Likewise practitioners cannot look to research for prescriptive advice. However practitioners can use the researcher's findings in their dialogue about solutions to practical problems.

Limitations of Research knowledge

Research findings has several limitations. One of them is that results generated from a sample cannot be generalized to all the elements of a population. Some research studies do a few cases and generalization has to be done by considering each of the other additional cases. Therefore practitioners can look to research for advice but they should ask themselves: "Are these findings applicable to my situation"?

Another limitation of research knowledge is that its discoveries are filtered with a certain worldview. Studies about intervention in the classroom may have have high performance test achievement as learning outcomes while neglecting other outcomes such as self-reliance, humanitarian attitudes,etc. Some research studies are done with a certain view of teachers as proved by Lampert's observations. She stated that teachers are considered like "technical production manager" whose role is is to monitor the efficiency of learning. The teacher's role is to apply researcher's knowledge and policies without the consideration of other instructional factors.

Lampert advances a different view of teachers as dilemma managers. This view originated from her own research studies revealing that classroom teaching involves many problematic situations with competing interests that the teacher has to deal with.

Lampert's view of teaching agrees with other professionals who studied professional practice. Donald Schon is one of the most influential of these individuals. His theory stated that a "flawed model of technical rationality" dominates thinking about the relationship between research and practice. He describes the model of Technical Rationality as professional activity consisting in "instrumental problem solving made rigorous by the application of scientific theory and technique".

Shon explained the reason why this model is flawed. He stated that research in the positivist tradition deals with a "stable, consistent reality about which generalizations can be made and applied, whereas professional practice involves "complexity, uncertainty, instability, uniqueness and value conflict."

Schon and many others advise that practitioners have to engage in reflection-in-action, not in the application of research knowledge in order to deal with the "messiness" of their work. One of the chief elements of reflection-in-action "is a kind of experimentation based on the practitioner's analysis of each unique situation they confront."

Schon's model of reflection-in-action doesn't prevent the application of research knowledge for professional action. The implication of the model is that research knowledge should not be used exclusively as a basis for professional action. In fact researchers found that "the classroom is marked more by sameness of practice than by diversity and uniqueness". In fact research knowledge might allow practitioners to be in a better position to accommodate the differences among the constituencies."

 The Importance of Basic Research

Some practitioners believe that educational research is too theoretical and too focused on basic processes of learning. They think that priority should be given to applied research based on problems confronted by practitioners. This argument raises questions about the relative value of basic and applied research in education.

While the contribution of applied research to the improvement of educational practice seems obvious an important study in the field of education gives reason for reconsideration of this viewpoint. The remarkable findings of this study are related to the fact that a high percentage of basic research studies was essential to the development of current treatment of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Four types of knowledge that research contributes to education


Many research studies are based on the description of natural or social phenomena by studying their form, structure, activity, change over time, relationship to other phenomena, etc. These descriptions have resulted in important discoveries. For example the observation of different parts of the universe by astronomers have resulted in the discoveries of galaxies and the structure of the universe. These discoveries have subsequently lead to the origin of the universe and its course.

The descriptive function of research relies strongly on instruments for observation and measurement. Researchers spend a great amount of time to develop instruments. Once developed these instruments are used to describe phenomena studied by researchers.

Descriptive studies increase the knowledge of education in schools. Some important books about education are based on descriptive studies for example Life in Classroom by Philip Jackson, The Good High School by Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, etc.

Some descriptive educational studies produce statistical information of interest to policy makers and educators. The National Center for Education Statistics publish descriptive studies in an annual journal called the Digest of Educational Statistics. These published studies about the delivery of education are information available to anyone concerned about the quality of education in schools.


Another type of research knowledge is the ability to predict a phenomenon that will happen at time Y from information available at a time X. For example lunar eclipses can be predicted with precision from knowledge about the relative motion of the Moon, Earth and Sun. The next stage of an embryo's development can also be predicted from knowledge about the current stage of the embryo. A student's performance in school can be predicted with a fair amount of precision by an aptitude test administered previously a year or two,

Educational researchers have undertaken a lot of prediction studies for the acquisition of knowledge about factors predicting student's success in school and in the world of work. One of the reasons of doing such research is to provide guidance for the selection of students who will be successful in some particular academic disciplines. For example Universities use the Scholastic Aptitude Test along with other data for the selection of students who are likely to be successful in their academic programs. More knowledge is needed about the level of accuracy of these tests for different groups of students to determine if new instruments are needed to improve the predictability of success in some particular fields.

Another purpose of prediction research is the identification of students who can be unsuccessful in the course of their schooling so that academic prevention programs can be put in place. For example this type of research can be used to solve the problem of school dropouts. The collection of information about students from sixth grade until graduation can provide information about the best predictions. The predictive knowledge can be used to determine sixth graders who are likely to become high school dropouts. This knowledge can be used to develop programs that can help them to be successful in schools.

Educational research has produced a large body of predictive knowledge about factors predicting issues of social importance (examples: academic success, career success, criminal conduct). Several procedures have been developed for doing predictive research.


The third type of research knowledge deals with the effectiveness of interventions. Some examples of interventions are: drug therapies in medicine, construction materials in engineering, marketing strategies in business, and instructional programs in education. Many educational research studies are realized to identify interventions or factors able to be transformed in interventions in order to improve student's academic performance. Walberg and his colleagues have summarized the results of nearly 3,000 studies on interventions or potential interventions undertaken for the purpose of improving student's performance on various measures of academic achievement. Such intervention variables are: reinforcement, reading training, cooperative learning, personalized instruction, tutoring, individualized science, individualized mathematics, etc.

Walberg's synthesis of research have demonstrated that educational researchers have found many effective interventions that can improve student's learning. However studies need to be done to improve the effectiveness of these interventions. Research has to be undertaken also to turn potential interventions into actual interventions. For example class morale is not an intervention per se. However when it is used it becomes an intervention to improve student's performance. Various research approaches are used to generate "improvement" research knowledge such as evaluation research, experimental research and action research.

Another approach for the improvement of education through inquiry has become popular in recent years. Cultural studies, a branch of critical theory, is a type of social science inquiry that investigates the power relationships in different members of a society in order to help them to deliberate from different forms of oppression. Researchers engaged in this type of inquiry should state their purpose not as improvement of education but as emancipation of some oppressed members of the educational system. A branch of historical research called revisionist theory also examines oppressive power relationships. These power relationships reflect some strong cultural and social forces that affect student learning.


The fourth type of research knowledge, explanation, is the most important one because it includes the three. Being able to explain a phenomenon researchers can describe it, predict its consequences and intervene to decrease or eliminate harmful consequences.

Researchers generally called theories the explanations about the phenomena being investigated. A theory is an explanation of a certain set of observed phenomena in terms of a system of constructs and laws that relate these constructs to each other. In other words a theory is a system that consists of a set of constructs and their relation to each other. For example, Piaget's explanation about intellectual development is a theory. Let's demonstrate it.

What phenomena does Piaget have to observe and explain? He has to observe and explain the behavior of infants and children with respect to their environment. For example Piaget observed how children of different ages responded to a particular task. The children's responses constitute a set of phenomena that Piaget has to explain by establishing a theory.

What are Piaget's theoretical constructs? First let's define a theoretical construct and its two types. A theoretical construct is a concept that is inferred from observed phenomena. It can be defined constitutively or operationally. A constitutively defined construct is one that is defined by referring to other constructs. For example Piaget's construct of conservation can be defined as the ability of an object to have some of its properties remain unchanged while other properties of the object (e.g., substance, length, volume) undergo a transformation. The notion of conservation is being defined here by referring to other constructs (e.g.,  property, transformation, or length).

An operationally defined construct is one that is defined by specifying the activities used to measure or manipulate it. For example the concept of conservation (constitutively defined above) can be defined operationally by referring to a particular task, for example, putting a constant amount of liquid into different-sized containers and then asking a child whether the amount of liquid remains the same.

Some researchers used the term variable in their investigation rather than construct. A variable is a quantitative expression of a construct. Variables are usually measured in terms of scores on an instrument of measure such as an achievement test or an attitude scale or in terms of categories of construct (e.g., public vs. private schools).

Let's continue about proving that the explanation of Piaget about child's development is a theory. Other constructs in Piaget's theory are the stages of intellectual development: sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations and formal operations.

What is the law that relates the stages of intellectual development? First, let's define a law. A law is a generalization about the causal, sequential, or other relationship between two or more constructs. "Piaget proposes the law that these constructs are related to each other as an invariant sequence: the sensorimotor stage is always followed by the preoperational stage; the preoperational stage is always followed by the concrete operations stage and the concrete operations stage is always followed by the formal operations stage".

Uses of theory

Theories serve several purposes. First they identify commonalities in isolated phenomena. For example Piaget identify the effects of sensorimotor intelligence on many infant behaviors. Theoretical constructs identify the universals of experience in order to make sense of that experience. Second the laws of a theory allow us to make prediction and to control phenomena. For example certain astronomic laws enable astronomers to make predictions about eclipses and other phenomena in the universe. The laws of a theory of learning allow special educators to make interventions that lead to positive changes in student behavior.

Approaches to theory development

The two main approaches of theory development are: grounded theory and scientific method. In grounded theory the constructs and laws are grounded in the set of data collected. In other words the constructs and laws dreved from the immediate set of data collected. The usefulness of constructs and laws are tested in a subsequent research.

The other approach is called scientific method. It consists by formulating a theory and then testing it by collecting data. The process unfolds in three steps.

1. One formulates a hypothesis
2. One makes deductions of observable consequences of the hypothesis.
3. One tests the hypothesis by collecting data.

Example of Theory testing

The three steps of theory testing are demonstrated in a study of self-attention theory led by Brian Mullen. This theory focuses on self-regulation processes that occur when an individual projects his attention on himself. Some manifestations of these processes are self-consciousness and embarrassment at work. One of the functions of self-theory is to explain the effects of groups on individuals. The theory states in part that when individuals are in groups they become more self-attentive as the size of the group decreases. This can be explained by the fact that when the size of the becomes smaller individuals can focus their attention more on themselves in relation to the group and therefore tend to follow the standards of the group.

The first step to test the validity of this theory is to formulate a hypothesis, which is a tentative proposition about the relationship between two or more theoretical constructs. "In Mullen's study, the hypothesis is that individuals would be more self-attentive in smaller groups than in larger groups" (Educational Research, an Introduction). The two theoretical constructs stated in the hypothesis are group size and self-attention. They are formulated in the hypothesis in inverse relation  to each other meaning that as group size decreases self-attention increases,

The second step in testing theory is to make deductions of observable consequences of the hypothesis. This process of deducting requires the existence of a real or simulated situation. In this perspective Mullen was able to obtain transcripts of 27 high school discussions of which size varies. Self-attention was operationally defined as the multiple uses of first person singular pronouns (I,me) by students when they talked in the discussion groups. The measure of group size was done by counting the number of students in each discussion group. Mullen was able to define and measure each construct stated in the hypothesis by using the available data.

The third step in testing a theory is to collect empirical data and determine whether they support or reject the hypothesis. Mullen counted the number of students and the number of first singular pronouns stated by the students in each discussion group using all the data available to him. Mullen uses the correlation method to show the relationship between the two sets of data obtained by counting the number of students and the number of pronouns. The result of the statistical analysis was: a higher frequency of first-person singular pronouns was encountered in the smaller groups than in the higher ones.

The hypothesis was supported by available data. Therefore that part of the theory corresponding to the is hypothesis is reinforced. This increases confidence that the theory provides a valid explanation on how people act in social situations.

Several weaknesses arise from the scientific method in spite of its power to test hypothesis.  "One of them is that the researcher may deduce inappropriate observable consequences from the hypothesis, and thus make an inappropriate testing of the hypothesis".

The other weakness is very difficult to overcome. "Any observable result potentially can support multiple, sometimes conflicting theories".  Therefore a researcher can never prove a theory but can only support it.           


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Open Educational Resources updates

Evaluation Tool for Aligning Open Education Resources To ...
"There are millions of open education resources on the Internet and we now have a way to evaluate their quality," said Stephen Pruitt, Achieve Vice President of ...
Expert Type Design Review service for the Open Educational ...
Open Educational Resources for Typography will launch in late December 2011. It will be edited, enhanced and improved with the input and assistance of ...
The UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning (COL) Guidelines on Open
The UNESCO/COL Guidelines on Open Educational Resources in Higher Education outlines key issues and suggestions for integrating OER into higher ...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doing theory based research

In order to produce an outstanding research study one can formulate a research problem that will test a theory already developed. Some related definitions of terms are then necessary.

What is a theory?

A theory is an explanation of observable events in terms of constructs and laws that specify the relationships between these constructs. In other words to establish a theory you need first observable events. Second you observe these events. Third you explain what you observe using constructs and laws that establish the relationships between these constructs. A theory is first made of concepts of observable events and second of concepts of relationships about the concepts of those observable events.

What is a construct?

A construct is a concept generalized from common elements between observable events and that is used to explain those events. In other words first you observe events. Second you research common elements between the observable elements. third you use the common elements to explain the observed events. Simply said a construct is an explanation of obervable events based on common elements between those events.

What is a law?

A law is a generalization about a causal, sequential or other type of relationships between two or more constructs. First you establish constructs. Second you establish relationships between those constructs. Third you generalize those relationships.

Now that the definition of theory is complete. Let's define two terms that derive from construct: variable and hypothesis,

What is a variable?

A variable is a construct thought of as a characteristic that can vary in quality and quantity.

What is an hypothesis?

First definition: a hypothesis is a speculation about the relationship between two or more variables.

Second definition: a hypothesis is a testable prediction about observable phenomena that is based on a theory's constructs  ant their relationships.

Example of Theory Based Research 

Roger Goddard, Scott Sweetland and Wayne Hoy used theory as a guide in their research of factors influencing student's achievement in urban elementary schools. The primary factor bore upon academic emphasis which is emphasis on academic excellence by schools. The research problem was based on social cognitive theory to predict how the school level of  academic excellence would influence students'achievement.

Social cognitive theory attempts to explain how certain factors influence individual and group perceptions which in turn shape individual and group behavior. An important construct of this theory is agency, which is the tendency of individuals to pursue a course of action in order to achieve some definite goals. An example of agency is the effort made by a school leader in order to achieve academic excellence. According to social theory certain kind of experiences can change an educational leader's perception and consequently affecting his or sense of agency. Other constructs of the social cognitive theory are vicarious learning and self regulation. Let's try to explain these concepts in practice. An educational staff hears about the success of an educational program. This staff can learn vicariously about this program and self regulates in order to apply this program to achieve academic excellence. These perceptual and behavioral changes produce improvement in student's academic performance.

Based on this reasoning from social cognitive theory the researchers hypothesized that teacher's perceptions about school norms and academic excellence will influence their work behavior and consequently student's learning. The researchers stated: "We hypothesize that the academic emphasis of a school is positively associated with differences between schools of the levels of achievement in both reading and mathematics". The hypothesis was tested with a sample of 45 elementary schools. Teachers completed a measure of academic emphasis and the school district provided data on student achievement in mathematic and reading.

As stated in their hypothesis, "Goddard, Sweetland and Hoy found that academic emphasis was a significant predictor of between school differences in student achievement in both mathematics and reading". The findings also supported social cognitive theory:

" The results provide initial support for Bandura's (1986, 1987) suggestion that the concepts and assumptions of social cognitive theory can be extended to organizations and are useful in examining school outcomes. We hasten to add that further testing of social cognitive theory of social cognitive theory in the schools is needed, but the current results are encouraging because our hypothesis was driven by this theory. We hope that the identification of the identification of the theoretical underpinnings of academic emphasis illuminates pathways to future research on school improvement and that school leaders can apply thee ideas to make their schools better places for stuents to learn". (Goddard et al., p.690).

A hypothesis originated from theory guided the design of a research study of which findings improved educator's understanding of factors that improved student learning and reinforced the theory.

This study shows how academic emphasis influence student achievement in urban elementary schools. It supports the social cognitive theory that perceptual and behavioral changes can produce academic achievement. But other changes in perceptions and behavior in the entire school culture have to be done. Effective collaboration between all staff and students in the entire school community is mportant. Opportunities for all staff for professional advancement and their involvement in the well being of the school, mutual understanding and respect between all members of the school, the absence of discrimination, racism and exclusion are also factors worth to be considered. 

It is important to note that the researchers stated that their findings supported social cognitive theory but not proved it. Even if a number of studies produce evidence supporting a theory and no disconforming evidence is present, a theory is never proved. The researchers generally agree with the argument of the philosopher of science Karl Kopper that that the possibility of disconforming evidence in the future always exists. On the other hand, one study that provides disconforming evidence calls for revision or rejection of the theory.

The cognitive dissonance dissonance experimentation stated above was a quantitative research study testing a previously developed theory. In other words a theory was developed and then a study was designed to test it. This procedure doesn't happen in qualitative research study. Many qualitative studies are designed to discover theory. This approach is called grounded theory because the first step consists in collecting data and then the researcher searches for theoretical constructs, themes and patterns "grounded" in the theory.

Yves Simon, Educator

Reference: Educational Research, Joyce P.Gall.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The OER university credentialing , my position and interactions

By Paul Stacey - Sunday, 28 August 2011, 09:50 AM
The possibility of defining a credential using OER is intriguing. There are a variety of post secondary credentials that could be developed including certificates, diplomas, bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees.

Most jurisdictions around the world have established a framework for post secondary credentials. See the Ontario Qualification Framework for example. For each credential the framework defines a range of attributes including admission requirements, duration of study (expressed as number of instructional hours), and depth and breadth of knowledge.

OERu accrediting institutions, such as the existing anchor partners, will likely be working within a similar framework. One approach to defining OER credentials is to structure them in such a way that they align with these frameworks.

Do you think OERu should focus on using these frameworks or design credentials in a different way?

A great deal of the OER currently available have not been developed as complete credentials. Instead OER are largely courses or more typically course components. A challenge in designing an OERu credential is assembling these smaller units into a coherent credential framework.

So lets say I want to use the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative OER in creating a credential. If you access the For Students section of their site they explicitly state what is being made available. Course Materials, Simulations, Computer Based Tutors, Virtual Laboratories, Self-Assessments, and Formative Feedback are all freely available to students as OER. But look at what isn't part of the OER - Access to an Instructor, Graded Exams, Tracks Student-Learning as Feedback for Instructors, Credit/Verification of Course Completion. So a significant challenge around using these OER resources in creating a credential is fulfilling all the elements not part of the OER. OERu anchor partners have the opportunity to take on any or all of these elements as part of their role.

I've jumped right in to the deep end of this Designing OERu Credentials so let me stop there and ask all of you some questions:
  • What are your ideas for designing an OERu credential?
  • What do you think the first OERu credential should be?
  • What existing OER do you see being used for that credential?
  • How would your institution or the OERu anchor institutions support students pursuing that credential?

By Yves Simon - Wednesday, 31 August 2011, 04:41 PM
I don't think the OERu credentials should be based on the same ones as those of the traditional universities. An open education institution as in the case of an OER university should be me more open than existing open education institutions. The admission requirements, the number of hours that a student is required to take for a course, assignment of grades,etc don't fit in the open world. I think the OERu credentials should reflect the realities of the 21st century where learning doesn't necessarily take place behind closed doors thanks to the information technology where information can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Many working people don't have time to go to regular universities. Others are living in remote areas, can't afford the high costs of higher education or simply disenchanted by the frustrations of the current educational system. Many bright, talented people around the world are yearning for independent learning that can be credentialed because of the culture in which we are living. Credentials should be based on learner's trust and engagement, the presentation of a portfolio, credits for previous courses taken disregarding of their oldness and life experiences,etc. The credentials should encourage lifelong learning and the fact that learning is not limited by time, space, grades, diplomas, degrees, status, etc. Learning is a natural activity of animated beings.

By Rory McGreal - Wednesday, 31 August 2011, 05:53 PM
That is fine. There is room for both. Those students who want to have their learning and experience accredited by traditional institutions will be able to apply to OERu. Those that don't can either choose not to have their learning recognized or pick other alternative assessments as they emerge.

All the best.


By Wayne Mackintosh - Wednesday, 31 August 2011, 08:01 PM
Yves Simon wrote,
An open education institution as in the case of an OER university should be me more open than existing open education institutions.
This is an interesting line of conversation. There are strong similarities and synergies between the history of distance education, open learning and what we commonly refer to as the "Open universities". This pre-dated the open content and OER movement. The University of South Africa (Unisa) became the world's first single-mode distance teaching university in 1946 -- Predating the British Open University by two decades. The point being that there is a long organisational history of open universities.

The concept of open learning refers to the policies and practices which remove the barriers to learning but it is also strongly based on a learner-centred philosophy of teaching. The large single-mode distance education universities, are often called open universities because they subscribe to the philosophy of open learning but in addition the separation of time and place in distance education as a mode of delivery makes them more open because learners can learn at any time, any place etc. Many open universities do not have admission requirements. With the advent of digital technologies, elearning etc -- there has been prolific growth in traditional face-to-face institutions offering more flexible and blended learning options.

It is also interesting to note that the majority of founding anchor partners of the OER university are in fact open universities (for example: Empire State College, New York's open university; Athabasca University, Canada's open university; Thompson Rivers University, with strong historical connections to distance education through the BC Centre for Open Learning, the University of Southern Queensland, Australis leading distance education provider with 75% of students studying by distance (online) education; and the University of South Africa - -the worlds first open university.)

So when you say "OERu credentials should not be based on the same ones as those of the traditional universities" -- do you mean the delivery model associated with traditional face-to-face institutions?

For example, you can earn a degree at Athabasca university without ever visiting the Athabasca university campus in Alberta. There are no admission requirements and Athabasca university learners will be able to "complete" a number of course credits through their prior learning and assessment models thus gaining credit for learning outside the classroom. All the open university anchor partner of the OERu are more open than traditional universities.

However the credential (i.e. the university degree) is of equal standing when compared to the same degree earned at a conventional institution. With regards to the OERu initiative, quality assurance and institutional accreditation is the foundation stone on which we are building the network.

With regards to the OERu network, in our view we must ensure equivalence and parity of esteem for qualifications gained through the OERu network. We believe that we owe this to OERu learners, that is our qualifications must have the same stature and marketability of the qualifications earned from conventional or traditional institutions.

Given the flexibility of the OERu model, we will be able to incorporate portfolios, be able to structure the learning sequences in ways which facilitate work-based learning etc. However -- the degrees earned through the OERu network will be of equal standing to any university degree conferred by any of the top 100 universities of the world.

By Prince Obiri-Mainoo - Wednesday, 31 August 2011, 10:06 PM

 So when you say "OERu credentials should not be based on the same ones as those of the traditional universities" -- do you mean the delivery model associated with traditional face-to-face institutions?

For example, you can earn a degree at Athabasca university without ever visiting the Athabasca university campus in Alberta. There are no admission requirements and Athabasca university learners will be able to "complete" a number of course credits through their prior learning and assessment models thus gaining credit for learning outside the classroom. All the open university anchor partner of the OERu are more open than traditional universities.

While I share most of the views expressed by Yves and also Wayne's explanation above, the problem with majority of traditional universities and employers is seeing degrees awarded by such universities as Athabasca that accept prior learning experiences as sub-standard and therefore when it comes to applying for further studies or jobs it becomes a problem to such applicants. This is especially so with the so-called elite/premier universities in the developing world where I happen to be involved with in the promotion of e-learning, especially by OERu and OERs generally.

I wish that this problem could be addressed as well as we discuss the issue of credentials and accreditation because at the end of the day, the degree should be seen as authentic and of the same standard as the traditional ones and to enable such graduates to gain employment or accepted for further studies.

Prince Obiri-Mainoo

By Yves Simon - Thursday, 8 September 2011, 09:19 PM
I am sorry for responding late. I didn't have time to go to the discussions and I couldn't find the thread associated to my post. I hope you will be able to read my reply. I am mostly talking about assessment of learning. Originally I was thinking the OERu as an entity by itself that would assess self-learners'knowledge through independent learning through OER and/or other learning materials and validate that knowledge by a degree but it seems that there are the traditional attendance and the non-attendance. But what about validating knowledge of people who can demonstrate what they learn independently and through networked learning? For example people like Lisa Chamberlin, Leigh Blackall, etc are modeling examples of how to obtain a PhD degree through self-learning and networked learning. Lisa mentioned in her blog that she is not interested in using her independent study to get an academic position nor to put the title Ph.D in front of her name. That's wise from her but why not? I don't know her personally but having read her blog and being in the same social network I am sure that she has the competence and knowledge to be treated as equal to anybody else who has a Ph.D once she gets her degree. Blackall as an university professor at Canberra university in Australia is doing a Ph.D by publication. This model is very known in England for university professors but it is not practiced at all in United States and many other countries in the world. Why not expanding it to people who are not university professors?. There is also the Ph.D degree "by research only" also well known in England but not in United States and many other parts of the world. Auto-didactism, networked learning, other alternative education theories are all part of the theories of Philosophy of Education. Why are idealism and pragmatism the predominant theories in Education throughout the world? Kamenetz mentioned in her DIY Education guide the equivalents of the credentials of the traditional universities. For example the socialization in traditional universities are equivalent to study groups at P2PU and many others. Recognition of academic competence can be earned through reputed social networks. I would suggest this guide to the people responsible at the OERu as a guide to completely open universities. I continue to mention the higher access to open while privileging competence. For me the open education movement should educate the academic world and the society at large that competence should not be limited to BS, MA, Ph.D, grades, diplomas, degrees, etc. Knowlege and competence are more than that. We should go beyond those myths in the 21st century. As a matter of fact most of the successfull people in the materialistic world don't have those credentials and there are many autdidacts in the academic world. It is time to change those myths and I think that should pass by the open education movement.

By Wayne Mackintosh - Thursday, 8 September 2011, 11:16 PM
Hi Yves,
Glad you could join us and no need for late apologies.
Yves Simon wrote,
As a matter of fact most of the successful people in the materialistic world don't have those credentials and there are many autdidacts in the academic world. It is time to change those myths and I think that should pass by the open education movement.
You are right, many successful people including leading scholarly thinkers who have had a major impact on the world did not have a PhDs.

A PhD is a rite of passage in the apprenticeship of knowledge production within a particular epistemology and understanding of knowledge. Openness is deeply rooted in the traditions of this form of knowledge production. Any traditional research worth their salt knows the finding the answer to a perplexing research questions begins with a literature review or study on the current state of thinking. In other words we build on the open ideas of others in the pursuit of new knowledge. That said, a conventional PhD is but one path of knowledge acquisition is not necessarily better than any other paths of knowledge pursuit and anyone who holds a PhD will know this (even thought they may not be prepared to admit is.)

So I do agree with you -- in the 21st we must go beyond the conventional forms of knowledge pursuit and societies recognition of how knowledge was acquired and credentialed.

I must concede that the OERu network is working within our own limitations -- We will not be able to resolve or find answers to all the questions and suggestions you raise. Of necessity, given government legislation and requirements for credible credentials, a conservative market and society we are restricting our level of innovation to what we can realistically achieve achieve in the formal sector -- its not to say what we are doing is better than anything else, but think of the OERu concept as our contribution from the formal sector to the rapidly evolving context of alternative learning for the 21st century.

By Wayne Mackintosh - Friday, 9 September 2011, 04:42 PM
Yves Simon wrote,
Recognition of academic competence can be earned through reputed social networks.
While we have been critical of the academy to be fair to the university as institution, we must remember that many confer the the degree of Doctorate honoris causa. This is a good example where universities actually recognize the contributions and scholarship of individuals and award the highest qualification without traditional prerequisite degree requirements. Recipients of an honorary doctorate may use the degree in the same way as a substantive degree (except in some cases where the formal academic background would be a necessary requirement.)
The blessing in disguise is that no-one is forced to get a university of college degree.
Furthermore, the university is one of only a few institutions which welcomes and respects critical discourse from is paid staff even when its leveled at the university itself. Not many institutions welcome this level of internal self-reflection.
Bear in mind -- I do not work for a university and choose to work outside the sector but I believe that the University is an institution worth protecting for future societies. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The OER university perspective

According to this press release, "The President of Athabasca University has confirmed the University’s commitment to join the OER Foundation and support the OER Tertiary Education Network (OERTen) initiative as a founding anchor partner." This follows Empire State College (ESC) of the State University of New York (SUNY) joining last week. Moreover, there is currently a SCoPE seminar "discussing aspects of the OERu model." WikiEducator's OERu and P2PU have very similar models, whereby an OER initiative is tied to university credentialing and support. I'm not sure exactly what to make of the model. On the one hand, it's clearly a step forward in improving access to educational opportunities. On the other hand, it has the feel of a rearguard action to protect further erosion of the university sphere of influence, and is in this sense a bit regressive. But I'm in wait-and-see mode at the moment, and we'll see whether open educational resources translates in any meaningful way to open access.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Towards OER university: Free learning for all students worldwide

08-02-2011 (Apia)
The OER Foundation will host an open planning meeting on 23 February 2011 in Dunedin, New Zealand, for the project, Open Educational Resources (OER) for Assessment and Credit for Students. UNESCO will provide support for streaming the meeting on the Internet to enable virtual participation by education leaders and interested persons.
OER encapsulates a simple but powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good. The Internet provides unique opportunities for everyone to share, use, and reuse this knowledge.

The OER Foundation, Otago Polytechnic (New Zealand), the University of Southern Queensland (Australia) and Athabasca University (Canada) are collaborating in this project as founding anchor partners to provide flexible pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit.

“We extend an open invitation to all post-secondary institutions that care about sharing knowledge as a core value of education to join us in planning these sustainable learning futures,” said Dr Robin Day, Chair of the Board of Directors of the OER Foundation.

Phil Ker, Chief Executive of Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, highlights that “OER is the means by which education at all levels can be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient”.

WikiEducator, a flagship initiative of the OER Foundation, administers the Learning4Content project – the world's largest training project to provide free wiki-skills' courses for the collaborative development of OER to thousands of educators from 140 different countries. “The Learning4Content model demonstrates that OER is cost effective and infinitely scalable,” said Dr Wayne Mackintosh, Director of the OER Foundation and founder of WikiEducator.

The challenge is to find robust mechanisms for academic credit for these OER learners. “Students seek flexible study opportunities, but they also want their achievements recognised in credible credentials,” said Sir John Daniel, President of the Commonwealth of Learning. “This important meeting will tackle the challenges of combining flexibility with rigour, which requires clarity in conception and quality in execution.”

“The concept of free learning for all students is well aligned with UNESCO's global mission to provide education for all, which now seems imminently more doable with the mainstream adoption of OER in our formal education institutions,” said Dr Visesio Pongi, Director of the UNESCO Office in Apia.

 Related link
Meet Athabasca U Canada's first OER University

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Right to Education Denied: Why millions of People Can't Access Higher Education?

Imagine that you're a bright young individual who has just finished high school. You're eager to explore the next steps on your educational path. Yet, for a variety of reasons, all you see is one closed door after another in your quest for higher education. With no way to pursue your studies, you may slowly become trapped in the all-too-familiar cycle of poverty and repression.

This is a reality for millions of individuals around the world. Even though they have the motivation and qualifications to pursue higher education, they don't have the means to do so. Several factors are at fault:

• Higher education is not affordable: Higher education costs are skyrocketing and people simply cannot afford the escalating prices.

• Insufficient facilities in the local region: For a number of places in the world, a potential student is either in or out to the region's local university based on the results of a placement exam. If the student doesn't pass the placement exam, there are no other available institutions located nearby for the student.

• Inability to leave families to go to facilities located elsewhere: For some potential students living in villages or towns in remote areas, they may be accepted to a university in the city and need to relocate. However, the lost wages of the potential student, coupled with tuition fees, would place an economic hardship on the family.

• Part of a cultural or political regime that restricts movements and opportunities of populations: In many parts of the world, certain social castes, ethnic groups, religious affiliations or genders are not allowed to access higher education. Women, in particular, tend to not have the ability to study at universities in many regions.

The Internet is the great equalizer that allows us to bypass these roadblocks and offer accessible education to people all over the world.

University of the People is not "reinventing the wheel" by offering education via the Internet. However, it's using the wheel efficiently to organize free and open educational resources into structured programs that, when combined with social networks and volunteer professors, can offer sustainable and affordable higher education. It has opened a door to higher education for millions, who otherwise don't have the opportunity.

How Open Educational Resources are changing the face of Higher Education

With all the talk about the cost of higher education, there is an underlying current bringing about a radical change in education. This quiet, yet revolutionary force, is both directly and indirectly changing the bottom line in the price of attaining education. Behind the curtains in higher education are Open Educational Resources.

"Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others."

Recently, well-known author Anya Kamenetz covered Open Educational Resources and various pioneer learning start-ups in her free book The Edupunks Guide to a DIY Education. It is over 100 pages long full of online free or highly affordable knowledge resources. The OER movement is not only growing: it is exploding.

What perhaps is overlooked in daily conversations is that the most important aspect about OER is that it enables the best quality knowledge material to travel free of charge to the most remote and underserved places in the world. Education is no longer only for the elite privileged few; or for those saddled with a lifelong debt burden to achieve it. Education is now for everyone and anyone driven, motivated, inspired and ready to seek it out online. Money is no longer a prerequisite to a quality education -- only a computer and an internet connection remain.

We are part of a new era. From free learning sources such as MIT OpenCourseWare, to fully formed tuition-free degree programs such as those offered by University of the People, the phrase "burdensome tuition" is becoming a phrase of the past. Worldwide disparities in educational access based on economic situation or geographic restriction are being leveled out.

Think what a world we are becoming -- a world where money is not required in order for individual and collective intelligence to be expressed and compounded. Removing money from the equation, we will see in a very short time what universal affordable education will achieve in changing, brightening and modifying the world we live in.

Huffington Post

Friday, July 29, 2011

Free university redefines college

Free University Instructor Rand Cook shows home video footage of a baseball game during the first session of his workshop titled Responsive Cinema to Corporate Empire held in the Main Branch Library in San Francisco, Calif on April 15, 2011. The footage was found on the ground and later posted to in hopes of the owner stumbling upon the lost game.
By Catherine Lee
The Guardsman
At a time of widespread crisis in the state education system, a group of San Franciscans has created a school of humanities and sciences offering short-term classes that anyone can join at no cost.
The founders of the Free University of San Francisco met in December 2010 when they agreed the ongoing education catastrophe demanded a response because, as is, we are living amid intellectual wreckage.
“The social order is in disintegration. The divide between the rich and poor is an abyss. Unemployment and unease are widespread,” FUSF Dean Alan Kaufman said during the inaugural meeting. “The liberal arts are disappearing, displaced by studies guaranteed to generate the highest income.”
“The minimum requirement for membership,” according to Kaufman’s proposal, “is a desire to teach and/or a desire to learn.”
The founding instructors include Matt Gonzalez, who ran in the 2003 San Francisco mayoral elections against Gavin Newsom; Kaufman, a published author, poet and anthologist; and “Diamond” Dave Whitaker, local icon and City College student senator.
“The purpose of education is not to turn the student into a better consumer and profit earner,” Kaufman said, “but to help him discover the wealth of human culture.”
The founders embraced Kaufman’s call to action and held the school’s first session in March. The five-week-long courses began in April and include classes  in music, cinema history, writing, law, sociology, drawing, science and literature.
Tim Phillips is a practicing lawyer who attended an early organizing meeting. He developed the course, “What Your Boss Doesn’t Want You to Know: Your Rights at Work,” which he now co-teaches with fellow lawyer Darin Ranahan.
Phillips said he is in tune with the optimism and opportunity represented by the ideals of the Free University, which is why he’s taking the time to teach on Tuesday nights.
Since the practical class about employee rights is more like a workshop than a grade-based course, however, it isn’t quite comparable to City College classes, according to Phillips. Other instructors offer lecture-based classes at FUSF.
Classes are hosted in unconventional venues throughout the city – the Beat Museum in North Beach, the main library at Civic Center, Pirate Cat Radio in the Mission, and art galleries in SOMA and the Western Addition.
The FUSF classroom mood was well characterized by instructor Michael Murphy-Loeffler, “This is a perfection-free zone. There is no right or wrong here – we’re here to learn.” Encouragement from instructors and students comes in many forms. Students offer each other paper and pen for writing exercises, and latecomers are quietly offered seats in the circle without fuss.
Students like Laurie Hampton appreciate the opportunity to be back in the classroom. “I’ve been fighting to go back to school for 15 years,” she said as she wiped tears from her face during Bobby Coleman’s writing class.
Tuition, textbooks and transportation have been barriers to education lately for Hampton. Barbara Joans, the instructor of  “Revolutions in the 1960s vs. 2011,” who was in the writing class as a student, gave Hampton a ride home.
Jeff Chen, a stock analyst with two masters degrees, said the quality of the instruction and classmates he found in his March class – John Smalley’s “Introduction to Classical Music” – inspired him to attend a second FUSF class.
Chen is now taking Loeffler’s dream analysis class. “I work 10 to 11 hours a day and when I dream I’m still having work dreams,” he said. “This is too many hours of work. I’m hoping this class can help me dream about other things.”
Advanced registration is not required and students do not need to provide any form of identification or education history. Current courses are listed on the FUSF website
To receive the course catalog via email, visit FUSF’s website and subscribe to the email list. Dates for the next session have not yet been determined and new class proposals are welcome

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Introducing the OER university: 5 Questions with Wayne Mackintosh

Posted 23 Mar 2011 by Joseph Thibault

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I first learned of the idea of OERu from a webinar coordinated by Steve Hargadon at's lecture series. With the growing options for free education (, University of the People, etc.) there seem to be many players joining in to lower the cost and increase the availability of opportunities for education and learning, but there is still a gaping hole where accreditation and assessment and quality assurance of learning and learning materials should be (which perhaps should be weighted much higher in these digital times).
I reached out to Wayne Mackintosh, a founder of WikiEducator and champion of the OERu to answer a few questions about what it all means, what it might become and how he plans to get there.
1. First off it'd be great to introduce yourself to the audience.  What is your background and what experiences in higher education have you had that led you to this project? 
I'm an educator. I started my working career in the accounting profession, but decided that teaching was my vocation and I moved into education. I have spent the majority of my career working in open distance learning in the university sector and online learning. I also had the privilege of working at the Commonwealth of Learning focusing on the use of technology for development across Commonwealth member states. I am a committed advocate and user of free software for education and founder of WikiEducator–a global community of educators from the formal education sector collaborating at the heart of the education endeavour--that is, to share knowledge freely. I have a keen interest in strategy innovation and a passion for making educational futures happen. The foundations underpinning our work in the OER space are educational–we believe that the world's knowledge is a public good. The history and experience of the free and open source software movement provides huge potential and insights into making education more accessible, more affordable, and more efficient. We are combining this experience with our knowledge of distance education, online learning and the free culture to widen access to educational provision in a more sustainable way.
2. Many people understand open source, and even open educational resources, but when it comes to an OER university, many might be lost as to how it might substantiate itself in the higher ed market. Could you layout your vision of how OERu might function and what role it might take in 5, 10, or 15 years?
The vision of the OER university (OERu) concept is to provide free learning for all students worldwide. This is fundamentally doable with free content licensing, free software and the open web. Individuals are free to learn from OER hosted on the open web. The problem is that learners who access digital OERs on the web and acquire knowledge and skills either formally or informally, cannot readily have their learning assessed and subsequently receive credible credentials in recognition for their efforts.
The OERu collaboration will offer courses and programmes based entirely on OER and open textbooks. Through the community service mission of participating institutions, the OERu network will open pathways for OER learners to earn formal academic credit and pay reduced fees for assessment and credit services.
Aligned with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for universal education, sustainability, and global partnerships for development, we aim to provide free access to learning for the full spectrum of university degrees and post-secondary credentials in the long term. This should not require more than a donation of 1% of existing courses from participating institutions worldwide. The OER university is designed primarily to provide affordable access to post-secondary education for the estimated 100 million learners in the world who are qualified for a seat in tertiary education today, but who, due to funding issues or lack of tertiary education provisions, will not be able to gain credible qualifications.
The OERu university concept is an innovation partnership of like-minded institutions committed to the core values of education by creating pathways for OER learners to gain academic credit through the existing formal education system. In this regard, the OER university is not working in competition with the formal sector, but rather, it is working in partnership with post-secondary institutions to achieve their objectives through the selected implementation of open education approaches. Therefore, the OERu is not trying to “substantiate itself” in the higher education market per se, we are already part of this market by virtue of participating anchor partners in the formal sector who already award credible credentials. Our founding anchor partners including Athabasca University in Canada, Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, and University of Southern Queensland in Australia see significant opportunities to improve the sustainability of educational provisions as a social good. We are building a parallel learning universe to augment and add value to existing delivery models now possible with the implementation of open source software philosophies and open approaches to teaching and learning.
3. OERu isn't necessarily a new idea, but your approach has been to build a consortium of partners first before starting to build the framework for courses (this is also a very important aspect of successful open source projects).  What challenges have you faced in building your consortium?  What organizations would you like to have at the table that have not yet been willing to join?
Our aim is to ensure that OER learners can achieve credible credentials. Participation and engagement from recognized post-secondary institutions with accreditation authority in their local jurisdictions are prerequisite for success of the OERu collaboration. Quality assurance and institutional accreditation is the foundation stone on which the OERu is based. The OERu concept must ensure equivalence and parity of esteem for qualifications gained through the OER university network.
You're right; the notion of technology-mediated learning, where institutions provide learning at distance is not a new phenomenon. The OERu is refining the international experience derived from single-mode distance teaching universities around the world who operate at scale and teach entirely at a distance without any requirements for learners to come to campus in ways that are more appropriate for the digital age. Also, the notion of acquiring formal academic credit through alternate pathways is not new either. The University of London, for example, proctored its first international examinations at a distance in 1865 under their external international programme. The University of London model was based on the idea that learners could acquire knowledge through a variety of means outside traditional teaching. However, if the student could pass the exams, the University of London would confer a degree. That programme has produced five Nobel Laureates. Today, the open web combined with free content licensing and social media provides unprecedented opportunities to improve pedagogy associated with the traditional delivery model in widening access to high quality learning on a global scale.
The biggest challenge in recruiting participating organizations is the misplaced perception among educational leadership that institutions will loose market advantage if they share education materials under open content licenses. There is no research evidence to justify this assertion, and the fact is that students do not base their decisions to enrol at any university based on the prescribed texts used by the professor. Speaking candidly, if tertiary education institutions are focusing their competitive advantage in the higher education market in the digital age based on their course materials, they need to rethink their business models because projects like the OERu will erode their market base. The OERu network will provide credible credentials at reduced fees. Our point of difference is that we will leverage cost-advantages in the development and maintenance of high quality learning materials through mass collaboration across multiple institutions. The international reach of the OER Foundation's work as a trusted and credible institution will provide the basis for scaling the model.
The OER Foundation subscribes to the principles of open philanthropy and we extend an open invitation to all post-secondary institutions who care about the values of education to join the OERu in building sustainable education futures. The point is, we have the critical mass of institutions to award credit for OER learning. Any number greater than two participating institutions means we are more effective than doing this alone. The more institutions who join, the more efficient the model becomes. It's a win-win strategy for all involved.
4. You've laid out the logic model of how OERu would essentially work (a parallel learning universe). It seems to cut OERu out of any funding model however.  So how would OERu be sustainable?
This is where my past life in the accounting profession combined with experience of the free software model has been invaluable in planning sustainable business models for the OERu concept. First, I should highlight that the provision of post-secondary education is not a perfect market in the traditional economic sense. In most parts of the world, tertiary education is largely funded though government interventions as an investment for the future of their respective economies. Had education been a perfect market, given magnitude of unsatisfied demand on a global scale we would have witnessed many new providers entering the market and through competition observed a significant reduction in the price of tertiary education. However, over the last decade, in most industrialized countries of the world, the cost and price of education has been increasing in excess of the inflation index. Clearly such systems are not sustainable in the long term.
The OERu is not a formal teaching institution and does not confer degrees or qualifications--but is a collaboration convened by an educational charity that works in partnership with accredited educational institutions to provide credit for OER learning on the pathway to awarding credible credentials.
The activities of the OERu are coordinated by the OER Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides leadership, international networking and support for educators and educational institutions to achieve their objectives through open education.
The OER Foundation is a registered educational charity and we rely on the goodwill of individuals and institutions to support our work in providing free learning for all students. If organizations use our services without giving back, we understand that they have good reasons why they are unable to support us financially through donations or membership contributions. The operational costs of running the OER Foundation are surprisingly low for an institution with our comparative international reach. We will generate the necessary funds to support our core operations from membership organizations who can afford to contribute.
On the cost side of the equation there are two significant drivers which underpin the economics and sustainability of the OERu model. First, the cost of replicating digital knowledge is near zero. With free content licensing we remove restrictive copyright barriers, which regulate access to knowledge and effectively regulate the price of closed materials in an open market. Second, the cost of developing high quality OERs when shared, for instance, among ten institutions is significantly cheaper than doing this alone.
The OERu business model is founded on the notion of aggregating those activities where it is more cost-effective to collaborate, for example, open course development or shared support infrastructure. The collaborative services of the OERu are administered by the OER Foundation.
The OER Foundation derives funding from institutional membership contributions participating in the OERu initiative, general public donations, government contracts, and contributions from international agencies to fund the collaboration infrastructure. We also derive funding from international donor agencies to address strategic gaps in the implementation of the model. As a non-profit entity, all surplus funds are reinvested back into supporting the OERu.
The OERu model is similar to many business models associated with free and open source software, but refined for the delivery of post-secondary education. All institutions will be free to use, adapt, and modify OER produced by the OERu and they will be able to incorporate these OER materials into their own credit-bearing courses without being contributing partners to the OERu. (Not unlike the freedom to download a variety of GNU/Linux operating systems for free.) That's healthy, and we hope that institutions who improve OER materials they derive from the OERu will donate these back to the wider OER community. If they don't, that's fine, but in a transparent and open world, prospective students will see which institutions take without giving back and brand trust is a significant factor in the education world.
The OER Foundation provides key services, which are hard to scale within individual organizations. For example, contributing institutions will gain international listings on the OERu portal administered by the OER Foundation so learners around the world will see which institutions can provide assessment or credential services from our open curriculum. The OER Foundation will facilitate mechanisms for course articulation and credit transfer among OERu partners. This will be predicated by an agreed open curriculum by participating organizations. Also, mass-collaboration is required for the sustainable functioning of “Academic Volunteers International.” These are services that require collaboration.
From the perspective of contributing institutions, the cost of membership of the OER Foundation is significantly less than the marketing department would need to spend to get comparative levels of exposure in the international OER space. To put this in perspective, if OERu membership contributions to the OER Foundation were the only source of revenue for the organiztion, the break-even point is 40 contributing institutions for a membership fee which is considerably lower than the tuition fees of one student at most institutions. However, this is not the reason why education institutions are joining the OERu. Organizations are joining the OERu because of their educational values and commitment to their community service missions. OERu partners will provide assessment and credential services on a cost-recovery basis and these services may be funded by government grants in their respective countries. This is a classic non-zero-sum sustainability model we have witnessed in the open source software arena.
5. OER on the web is proliferating, and there are new startups every day that are coming online to help curate, rate, organize, filter, and create OER. What's the difference between OERu and the other platforms/business models being built on OER?
That's a good question. Our point of difference is that we are a collaboration of formal education institutions who are serious about providing OER learners with pathways to achieve credible qualifications. The majority of startups helping to curate, rate, and organize OER are not in the business of providing credible credentials. These startups focus on important nodes of the evolving network and provide valuable services in building a sustainable OER ecosystem. The OERu is a contribution from the formal education sector to this burgeoning open ecosystem.
The proliferation of OER on the web is welcome, and the OERu will integrate, adapt, and modify existing OER on the web into the OERu curriculum. The OERu will will also contribute new OER we generate back into the system.
OER wants to be free. OER is digital data and doesn't care which pipes are used to transport the data or which repositories host free learning resources. A distinctive difference of the OER Foundation, when compared to many mainstream OER projects is our commitment to free cultural works' approved licensing, which also includes a commitment to open and editable file formats–not unlike the essential freedoms underpinning the open source software definition. The OER Foundation does not want any learner or educator in the world to sacrifice their freedoms, irrespective of their software choices.
Some OER projects argue that they subscribe to the principles of modern democracy and freedom of speech subject to the condition that you can't make money from OER by adding the non-commercial restriction on their educational materials. However, many of these institutions appear to have no issues with their academics earning royalties from the textbooks they prescribe to their learners. The OER Foundation does not support the inclusion of the non-commercial restriction, as we believe this is an infringement of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes the right to earn a living. Like the open source software movement, we are not opposed to individuals or organizations earning a living from OER, and we believe that this is an effective mechanism for local entrepreneurs in the developing world to repackage and distribute knowledge to learners who may not have access to the Internet. This also an effective mechanism to encourage local income generation as opposed to a monopoly of knowledge distribution by the industrialized countries of the world.
The OERu is building a sustainable OER ecosystem. We aim to cross the chasm from “sharing to learn” to “learning to share”.
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Character Education's picture
Thanks for taking interview from such a great educator. But initially he was an accountant why he move from the accounting field to education filed. By the way great information you discuss with him.
Character Education
Muvaffak Gozaydin's picture
I have been against OER from the start.
What Wayne is trying to do is different.
I understood that OER is
some content created and developed by anybody in the world and made available to anybody in the world free.
1.- Who created the content ?
2.- What are his qualification to create such content ?
3. Who checked the content if it is any good.
4.- How one can trust the content having right things.
Therefore OER is OUT for me :
But I am all for low cost, quality online courses for the world.
What is quality ? Everybody can describe different things. None is acceptable.
Quality in education is gained by centuries.
If an education institution has reputation for 100-200 years and still have it, that is quality for me .
Fortunately quality institutions such as ivy league universities plus some more started to make their original ( not second hand ) ONLINE content available to public FREE. I am against to be free. They should charge $ 10 per course .
They should charge some nominal fee to cover expenses. YALE in this respect is fantastic. Just look up
Yale, Harvard, Princeton, MIT , Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia, Michigan are there. They provide roughly 150 courses. But they say they will increase every year by 20 or so courses . Now it is available to everybody .
Number ONE :
Only first class online material should be delivered to 100 million people of the world
Number TWO
It should be charged. a nominal fee.
People should be able to get a degree at the end.
They do not do it .
So what I do :
1.- I Suggest to the existing good universities , not top once, to adopt online courses from academicearth.
2.- Assign an instructor, facilitator of the university for an online course from academicearth.
3.- Let the facilitator organise a forum and LMS to supervise students
4.- Give students homeworks, midterms, final.
Solutions are all provided by academicearth.
5.- Make the final f2f and give grades to student and give credits to be counted toward a degree.
Benefits :
1.- The quality of the local university increases with the courses from ivy league university
2.- Students are charged only a nominal fee to be paid to superviser + academicearth ( they do not accept that yet ) for sustainability of the project. Cost to university is nothing
3.- Employers prefer students if they have taken courses from Stanford, Yale etc.
4.- Local universities create more rooms for f2f students. If 50 % of the courses are taken as online in any university the capacity of the university goes up 100 %. That is if they have 5,000 f2f students at the beginning and they take 50 % online courses the number of the students will go up to 10,000 without any investment for classrooms etc plus no heating, no cleaning
Created by Carnegie Mellon. But not to full scale.
Obama visited them. He gave a very good point.
SHARE. Share what you have .
So Carnegie shares its online courses with other universities in Pennsylvania. I gues they charge something nominal .
No need to reinvent the wheel again and again. One online should be used by 16,000,000 university students in USA. Then the cost per student is only facilitators salary .
These 2 models in the operation now.
Visit my humble
providing links to academicearth + MIT OCW + + free ebooks+ ONLINE English for non English speakers.
That costs me only $ 100 per year. I am happy.
I send emails to all Universities in the world one by one to make use of academicearth . Very humble way .
If anybody helps I would appreciate it .
joeythibault's picture
Rock Star
You're right, OER is only as good as it's creators and the reviewers (who should/must be experts in the same content field). It's very important moving forward to properly vet open content to verify it's quality. Without quality how can we ensure learning outcomes?
Zarah Tuman's picture
Nihilism is valid when justified. Do some reading on the topic before criticising. The $ per course won't guarantee you quality education. Hillarious suggestions!
Muvaffak Gozaydin's picture
1.- Nobody measure quality of education by $
2.- What do you suggest please elaborate
3.- Nihilism is very phllosophical concept.
Not everybody can understand.
Muvaffak Gozaydin's picture
I joined the OERu group 5-6 months ago.
They are after my dream of reaching to whole world.
1. They are after quality education I agree
2.- They say students should get some credit from some accredited institution at the end. I agree.
3.- Students should pay some nomiinal fee. I agree.
4.- They say " to set up member universities " It is very hard.
5.- They say they will get donations. Extremely difficult.
6.- To get recognations world wide is also very diffucult.
But I support all educational world through technology to the whole world.
I redommend UNESCO should bring these effors together one day .
Introducing OER university