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OLnet one year on: Blending evidence for collective intelligence

CALRG conference presentation 2010

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Rebecca Ferguson
24 May 2010

CALRG conference presentation by Patrick McAndrew,Elpida Makriyannis, Giota Alevizou, Andreia Santos, Kasia Kozinska, and Tina Wilson, Pauline Ngimwa, Anna de Liddo.

Open Educational Resources are an important indicator for the future direction of education and learning systems. Earlier work on producing the resources themselves has led to greater focus on the way in which they can influence policy and change the way in which educational systems help people learn. OLNet was established  2009 with support from the Hewlett Foundation to research the opportunities that OER provide, and draw together evidence for how OER can be used and its influence on learning.

Extra content

(Cross-posted liveblog notes from my blog.)

(First in a series of liveblog notes from the CALRG Conference 2010, 24-25 May 2010, Jennie Lee Building, The Open University -Conference ProgrammeCloudworks discussion)

Patrick presents the background to OLnet, followed by short pieces from many of the researchers.

Current change is a shift to viewing OER (Open Educational Resources) as a catalyst for Deeper Learning - to change (the US schools system in particular) in a positive way to turn around the learning process. Investment in billions of dollars in the US schools system.

Also a focus on the design for open education, and on tools to bring together evidence, research and policy. Exploring accreditation/recognition.

Does OER break down barriers across/between context? Some suggestions it does, but some contra-indicators - cultural outlook embedded deeply in OER. So goal to understand what does transfer across context, including working with international fellowships through OLnet.

Elpida takes over and starts with a link back to Plato's School in Athens, sharing knowledge, to create social and learning connections. Technological revolution has the same key features, especially in Web 2.0/participatory web tools. How does behaviour change online? What does it mean to participate? 

Scanning 3000 sites, then narrow down to 50 that support learning activities; ran study monitoring those sites daily. Key aspect is what activities were allowed. Analysed the activities and they clustered in to four modes - contribution, browse/getting, giving/receiving feedback, sharing control. This was the visible layer of participation, but beneath that was an invisible network of interactions.

Tina and Pauline - looking at other educational contexts. Focus on Turkey, and on Africa - Kenya, Uganda, South Africa.

Kasia - exploring OER potential to address global issues, and the 'deeper learning' agenda. Focused on the 'social learner' group identified in the OpenLearn study (rather than bounce-visitors and accredited learners).  Purposes of user interaction - mostly around asking and answering questions; also connecting, social/affective/emotional structure on top of the cognitive layer.

Patrick impersonates Giota - interviewing 25 key stakeholders around the world involved in free world of content and the deliberate OER community. Focus on change. Non-interventional approach to observation, makes research ethics interesting challenge. Can see connections happening. Users contribute in new ways.

Also impersonates Andreia - looking at cultural divide crossing. OU content has a lot of British and OU culture embedded in it. Approach perhaps not to neutralise culture, but see OER as a cultural mix; a trigger for collaboration. Makes it easy to arrange collaborative projects since the sharing situation is already clear from the start - you've agreed to share things with the world. One example - UnisulVirtual.

Anna - OLnet and collective intelligence. Building a software infrastructure. First prototype is Cohere - semantic connections to help sense-making of complex issues. Explore/filter/makesense lets you browse/explore a semantic network. Working towards a CI-OER socio-technical infrastructure.

Patrick brings it together. After first year report, thought there was easily enough work, just need to collect and disseminate it! But still doing more, completing work. Goals: finding evidence to support OER policy, design support, infrastructure, learning, content, and transfers across contexts.


James Aczel: List of indicators and contra-indicators. At one point listed cultural specificity as a contra-indicator (as Patrick), versus consideration of keeping cultural context (as Andreia)

Patrick: Need Cohere to show that it both supports and neutralises it. It's appreciated that we have UK content amongst the US - there are pluses and minuses. Own position is now that we shouldn't be too down on ourselves about it.

Anne Adams: Connection to motivational, cultural factors. The modes, taking perceptions as snippets in time, taking people on a process/journey of collaboration (Jenny Preece), stages.

Patrick: Jenny is an OLnet expert fellow, returning in September

Elpida: Very good point, looking at that in the next phase. Difference from Jenny's work, building on the stages, some users go straight in to sharing control rather than following the stage process (from browsing and on) - especially with e.g. high-status academics.

Patrick: Interesting to look at these very open sites - stages doesn't seem the right model; people are experiencing those in different times and places - not necessarily in one individual site.

Anne: Maybe works if you focus on the individual person.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
No further permission needed to reuse or remix (with attribution), but it’s nice to be notified if you do use it.


Doug Clow
08:56 on 24 May 2010

Patrick McAndrew introduces Olnet

Open ed resources do break down barriers. But how to support this statement? New countries getting involved, however important not to forget that the open ed resources are dominated by the west. Looking at different subjects and sectors to see what is happening.

Question: How to turn research into impact.

Elpida Makryannis

Focus mainly on participatory learning.

Plato – ethos of creating social and learning connections. Technology, particularly as expressed through WEB20. and participatory web allow users to connect with each other in ways never before imagined. but how do users participate and connect online? What are their reasons for alternating their participation online.?

Presents four modes of participation. Browse/Get/share, Get/Receive feedback & expertise, Contribute joint decision-making, share control content and community. However they also found an invisible network of interactions.

Now focusing on how the invisible layer affects the visible layer.

Tina Wilson

OER in different contexts. Turkey – prepared to make their educational resources available but do not want them to be changed.


OER in African context. Spoke to people who were already aware of OER. Readiness to adopt OERs varies across the regions. Some dubious of quality.

Kasia Kozinska

Focusing on social learners who want to explore tools, connect with other people and construct their own interpretations.

Patrick standing in for Giota Alevizou

Looking at motivational aspects. Wikipedia as a learning resource. Peer to peer content.

Patrick standing in for Andreia Santos

Looking at how open resources can and can not cross cultural divide. All content has culture of origin embedded in it, but perhaps we should not try to neutralise our culture. The content could be seen as a trigger for collaboration. Working with groups in Brazil, collaboration cycle build around open educational resources.

Anna De Liddo

Describes software we’re using to bring all these ideas together. Olnet and collective intelligence. – new umbrella term used to express the augmented functions that can be enabled by the existence of a community.

First tool:

Cohere – tool that allows researchers to collaboratively annotate OERs. Helping to understand how these OERs make sense.

Patrick wraps up.


James Aczel points out that Patrick as himself contracticted Patrick as Andrea when he suggested that maybe we should not be eliminiating cultural elements from our open materials. Patrick says that in OpenLearn they were trying hard to eliminate elements, but that some feedback suggested that it was nice to see elements of British culture embedded in the predominantly US open ed resources. Not a clear picture.

Anne Adams sees a link between Elpida’s four modes and Jenny Preece’s stages of community membership. Elpida agrees and Patrick points out that Jenny is a visiting olnet academic, returning in September. They are exploring just these issues.

Gill Clough
11:54 on 24 May 2010

Liveblog notes from the session

“OER is a catalyst for deeper learning” Barbara Chow, Hewlett Foundation


OLNet project very concerned with the tools that can be used to bring these resources together

Examining what it means to be a learner in a world where so much is free.

How do we become participants?

Content is what draws people together.

Goal of understanding what can be transferred successfully across contexts.

How do users participate and connect on line?

What are the reasons for them altering their behaviour online?

Studied and reviewed 50 sites that supported learning activities. Carried out daily observations. Looked at the learning and social environment within these communities, the ways in which learners related to content and to their peers., and the activities that were allowed on the site

Four broad groups of visible participation

  1. Browsing. Getting / sharing content
  2. Contributing and making joint decisions about the content
  3. Giving / receiving feedback / expertise
  4. Sharing control over the community of the content.

Also an invisible network of interactions and they are currently investigating how this affects the visible layer of participation.

Users like to mimic their network in the real world. Real-world roles are continued in the online setting – particularly by academics. The more people reciprocated, the more they interacted.

Looking at OER in different contexts has involved studies in South Africa, Kenya, Germany, the UK, Turkey and the Netherlands and in the context of compulsory schooling, further and higher education.

Preparing for a world where we have a larger, more diverse, body of students in higher education.

Main purposes for user interaction on OpenLearn have been to

  • Ask
  • Answer
  • Connect
  • Gain insight
  • Get used to the system
  • Remain intellectually active
  • Get away from isolation
  • Find out who people are

A tool for the investigation of collective intelligence is Cohere, which allows collaborative annotation of the web, and supports users to understand how these annotations connect and relate to each other. It also helps users to make semantic connections. Users can explore, filter and make sense of annotations.

Rebecca Ferguson
18:30 on 24 May 2010

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