Authoring undergraduate modules using open source methodology and wiki technology (Inspired by DEMOS)

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Reading a Demos pamphlet ‘Wide Open – Open source methods and their future potential’ set me thinking how we could utilise the ideas behind open source to develop a better learning experience for undergraduate students.

In September 2006, the Ultraversity project will have to re-author the entire set of modules on its Ba (Hons), Learning, Technology and Research pathway (BALTR) as Anglia Ruskin University moves to a 15/30 credit rating for all modules. Why not take this opportunity to embrace aspects of open source methodology in an attempt to address the ongoing and difficult challenge we face of authoring module instructions that:
- have learning activities relevant to the students needs and circumstances
- are clear and unambiguous in their meaning
- provide a clear framework for the assessment products required
- combine to provide for a ‘delightful’ learning experience

To do this we will put together an ‘Aunt Sally’ of a module including instructions, resources and assessment products on a wiki. We will then invite our current students to make sense of it – that is edit the content and collaborate on the interpretation of the module definition form – step 2 in the diagram above.

Hopefully this will reduce the dissonance between steps 2-5 by engaging students in the process at the earliest stage possible, that is prior to the negotiation of their own individual learning plan and contract.

Before the start date of the module we will ‘freeze’ the wiki so that everyone is working on a level playing field. Clearly, as we are responsible for the quality assurance of the degree pathway we will maintain a leadership role and ensure that the resources and instructions will enable students to achieve the desired outcomes. In talking this approach we will, as far as possible, adhere to at least some of the characteristics identified by DEMOS as OSM – these are outlined below.

Background
The BALTR degree it is a tricky pathway to deliver for several reasons. Our modules are very generic in nature in that they have no discipline content (that is no subject benchmark statements to determine the content) and are all about workbased learning, are delivered wholly online through online learning communities with a social constructivist learning philosophy – a messy but powerful cocktail mix for HE learning that focuses on the ‘knowing why and how to’ within a discipline negotiated and identified at the individual level.

The degree is undertaken by people from a wide range of backgrounds including education, the health service, office administrators and more which means that the module definition forms have no subject content such as prescribed by benchmark statements

Open Source Methodology
The key principles that underpin OSM are collaborative working and openness (transparency) about the management and decision making process. The DEMOS booklet poses the question could these principles be utlised across a wide range of disciplines to enhance teams that produce knowledge, goods or services.

The booklet identifies ten characteristics of open source projects which are listed below, but more significantly identifies ‘children’ of OSM that display applications of some of the same ideas of OSM. These are divided into three categories:
- open knowledge
- open team working
- open conversations

A selection of 12 examples are then identified as prompts for thought and experimentation about where aspects OSM could be applied under 8 headings; media, public sector, law, academia, arts, health, finance and social innovation.

A stark omission for me was that of education. What better domain to apply the basic principles of OSM? So in the spirit of the publication, I thought how could we in the Ultraversity project explore this approach?

Negotiation and personalisation is at the heart of the learning experience we offer in the Ultraversity project.

DEMOS identified characteristics of OSM:
- Transparency
- Vetting of participants only after they get involved
- Low cost and ease of engagement
- A legal structure and enforcement mechanism
- Leadership
- Common standards
- Peer review and feedback loops
- A shared conception of goals
- Incrementalist – small players can still make useful contributions
- Powerful non-monetary incentives

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