Collaborative reports, with penguins

Research methods handbook cover, showing two penguins by a lakeside

When the GO-GN project was founded, it’s initial aim was to help grow a community of researchers in OER. Over the years it has evolved that somewhat, as the community has developed. We now have a good number of researchers and alumni, so as well as continuing to support Doctoral researchers, we wanted to utilise this pool of great people to produce outputs for the OER/OEP community as a whole.

The first idea we had around this came from listening to the various presentations from members and looking at the responses to our survey, where we asked what methodology people were using in their research. The answer to this was ALL THE METHODOLOGIES – that is, there was a real mix across all the researchers. This led us to think that a useful contribution would be to gather as many of these together as we could, briefly explain them and how they were applied in OER research.

Rob Farrow led the collaborative writing effort, and we had contributions from 24 GO-GN researchers globally. We also got the fabulous Bryan Mathers to provide some graphics to make it feel more approachable. He really riffed off the GO-GN penguin theme, and you can download all these images too, to enliven your research presentations. The resultant report is a really practical guide and introduction to many methodologies, which I think is useful for any doctoral researchers, beyond the OER/OEP field. I think this image in particular is a useful contribution to the field:

(Aside – Downes called the report ‘incoherent’ because it wasn’t a 300 page treatise on positivism. Aside from missing the point of the report, I feel using a position of authority to punch down on early career researchers and make them feel bad about contributing to a free, openly licensed resource for everyone just to boost your own ego, is, well, kinda crappy. I know people who’ve stopped blogging because he’s criticised them, so I’m here to tell you kids – if you get called unreadable or incoherent by Downes, don’t worry, it means you’re definitely doing something right. But onwards…)

The second report was to do a review of some recent OER related research articles. This was not intended as a comprehensive review but rather a convenient round-up of some recent stuff. Rob again led on this (he’s good cop/bad cop all in one), and compiled a list of papers, which he then asked members to provide short reviews for. We had 12 contributors this time, and the report came out last week. We only got a Bryan cover this time, but it’s so lovely I’ve had it printed and made into a poster for my study.

Research review cover showing one penguin diving into a swimming pool and another reading on a deck chair

I hope you find one or both of the above useful, please do let us know if you make use of them at all. Producing collaborative reports is much like group work in study, it takes longer and can be difficult to negotiate but the overall output is greatly improved. We intend to do another report next year that focuses on conceptual frameworks (again, our members have a LOT) and another research review report.

25 Years of OU: 2003 – VLE

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After my experience with T171, the UKeU, and helping develop their platform, I was approached by the PVC at the OU to be the first VLE Director. I was still a relatively young academic (well in OU terms anyway), so it was a bold choice which wasn’t an immediate hit with everyone concerned. At the time the OU had developed a range of bespoke technologies and was using some third party ones, but there was a desire to have a uniform solution now that elearning was definitely part of our mainstream offering.

I undertook a stakeholder consultation with all the faculties, support staff, IT services and students. My experience was that these kind of consultations are the sort of thing you have to do, but in the end frustrating. There was a lot of resistance from academics to the idea of any elearning or at least not being able to use their own platform they had developed over the weekend. There were people wedded (and in same cases I began to think, literally, wedded) to existing software. There were others who didn’t really understand what VLEs could offer, and so were happy to go along with what I suggested. And so on. The VLE discussion was rarely about the VLE, but rather it became a proxy for whatever concerns, plans or issues people had at the time.

But there were some useful considerations that arose from this, and it helped me when going in to meetings with commercial companies such as WebCT and Blackboard. I found out that you become incredibly popular when you’re the person making the decision on these kind of things. That kind of social pressure is probably not insignificant in people making purchasing decisions.

Eventually I opted for (in a 70 page report) the idea of a service-oriented architecture. Using a protocol called Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), the idea was that data could be passed between tools. This would allow us to assemble a system from different services. I proposed that this would ensure that the VLE would not be a collection of mediocre tools but a collection of the best-of-the-breed tools for our particular needs.

We didn’t really bring this to bear, but a middle ground was to adopt an open source solution – in this case, Moodle. This permitted enough customization while providing an agreed-upon infrastructure. The OU has been a great contributor to the Moodle community, and the adoption of a VLE dramatically accelerated our uptake of elearning. The open-source approach allowed the development of tools within the Moodle framework, and today it is a sophisticated platform supporting nearly 200,000 learners.

Covid-19 bit: VLEs have been around for a long time. They’re not perfect, they’re bloody annoying at times, but most HEIs have one. They have the technical infrastructure available for online learning (it may need a bit of propping up to handle the scale). What they lack is the expertise from educators and resource in terms of support to shift online. Although I moan about VLEs often, it turns out they’re not dead, and you can do a lot of interesting stuff pedagogically in them. They’re not the thing that will be holding you back, so you don’t need a new tech to do the online pivot, you probably need more investment in making innovative use if it.

Those Beaches Will Be Open For This Weekend

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In an earlier post I played with the analogy of Jaws and the online pivot. In that I concentrated on the second act of the film, but watching the return to campuses, I think there is resonance with the first act also. In that first act, which takes place on Amity Island, the tension is between Chief Brody who wants to close the beaches on safety grounds and Mayor Vaughn who wants to keep them open for the 4th July and the local economy. It is perhaps unfair to portray principals and Vice Chancellors who want to resume campus study as the Mayor Vaughns in this situation – they are dealing with complex issues for which there is no good solution. Rather it is likely the Brody-Vaughn dynamic is played out within each university and often within individuals themselves. I like to imagine them popping up on people’s shoulders like the old angel and devil depictions. That may sound as though I’m trivialising it, but thinking of students as swimmers and the virus as sharks may not be a bad way to consider what to do.

In the US we have seen campuses reopening only to shut again very soon after. We ought to be clear – the US is not the world, and they have dealt with the pandemic particularly poorly (although England is not much better, but Wales where I live, has been more successful). It is difficult to transfer outcomes from one context and set of behaviours to another. But is it inevitable when students get together on campus? This brought me back to Jaws.

University campuses are a perfect environment for viruses to spread, combining communal living, multiple intersecting social networks and people in close proximity. And as David Kernohan points out, with students travelling from all over the country, this presents a problem of viral spread beyond the campus. In Jaws, Hooper declares that a shark ‘is attracted to the exact kind of splashing and activity that occurs whenever human beings go in swimming. You cannot avoid it’. This is not true by the way, sharks tend to actively avoid people as McKeever argues in an excellent new book on sharks, but for our analogy it is akin to the way coronavirus is spread by exactly the actions undergraduates undertake – it’s unavoidable. Hooper suggests there are only two ways to defeat the shark: “You either gonna kill this animal or your gonna cut off its food supply.” With no vaccine, then seemingly the only option for the virus is to take away its food supply, ie close campuses.

But that might not be the case. Jim Dickinson has some useful suggestions on producing collaborative policy and agreement with students that might make the on-campus term feasible. Hooper’s binary choices of kill or remove food supply are too simplistic, even for dealing with sharks – you can encourage people to swim in areas where sharks don’t go, lure sharks elsewhere, even use shark nets (this last might equate to PPE in our analogy, but are bad practice in reality, so I’m not actually advocating them). But viruses are persistent. To paraphrase Hooper ‘what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine… It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is get transmitted, cause damage and make little viruses. And that’s all’. The beaches will be open, but some will be safer than others.

25 Years of OU: 2002 – IET

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The years are blurring a bit here in my 25 Years of OU series. I joined the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology around 2001 to work on the UKeU course with Robin Mason, but I’ll put it in this year as it was when I began to get settled there.

IET was set up at the very inception of the OU, long before educational technology became synonymous with computers. The intention was to use the best media and technology available and to test the effective design of distance learning courses. Ed tech may now be largely synonymous with online, but that is still essentially the same mission.

Considering that we have probably the first such ed tech unit in the country, which has a global reputation for excellence and some well respected academics (some of whom keep blogs), the OU as an institution has often been rather puzzled about what to do with the institution. The result is that we’ve been reviewed, we’ve been reorganised, we’ve been put into a larger service unit, we’ve been taken out and put in a faculty, we’ve been taken out of there and put under the remit of a PVC. And that’s just in the past 5 years. I reckon each of these shifts commands about 25% of institutional capacity as new roles, priorities, business plans and strategies are formed (we’re quite small so there aren’t many people to go around). The OU is not alone in this – it seems to be the norm for ed tech units, as I’ve whinged about before.

But on a positive note – IET seemed like the natural home for my nomadic interest. From here I was asked to be a representative on many of the projects that will follow in later posts. OER, Learning Design, Accessibility, learning analytics, MOOCs, open access, social media, online pedagogy – these have all had an IET influence (although I would stress that many other staff around the university also developed these). I’ve flitted across many of these which would have been more difficult in a faculty.

Covid-19 bit: With the focus now firmly on online learning and the likelihood that it will be a larger part of all offerings in the future, unis will be investing (maybe?) in their equivalents of IET. This will be a mixture of IT service, academic support, research and technical advice. It will be interesting to see the formation of these and their respective directions. There will be a need to review their structure and organisation as they develop. This may be appropriate but the key here is to do it in a way that doesn’t generate extra work for those busy units. Sorting out new reporting structures and governance committees is not a good use of that personnel right now (if ever).

Much is made in higher education of “Leadership”. However, I think for many in senior management now what is required is not leadership in terms of ‘leading change’, but rather what we might term ‘supportship’. That is, ensuring the staff have what they need to do the best job they can, with the minimum of barriers and the maximum of trust. The pandemic makes supportship more significant than ever, and this is particularly the case for those working in ed tech. On the plus side, I think the current OU senior management get this, and so hopefully no more reviews are in my imminent future, but I suspect they will be a feature more generally. Approach with caution is my advice.

Elitism is not innovation

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Like a few of you I exercised my eye rolling technique at this Guardian feature on Minerva, breathlessly titled: “The future of education or just hype? The rise of Minerva, the world’s most selective university“. I’m not going to talk about their model (it looks ok, but isn’t nearly as innovative as they think), but rather the futility of any model that is based in exclusivity. The article states that:

This year Minerva received 25,000 applications from 180 countries for undergraduate entry in 2020 and admitted just 2% of them, making it the most selective degree programme in the developed world.

This is portrayed as good thing. But it effectively means any outcomes of their approach are invalid and inapplicable to a wider context. Even if their pedagogy is sound, we can’t extract any meaning from it that isn’t bound up in the elitism. If you are a student allowed on to ‘the most selective degree programme in the world’, then you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself. A strong confirmation bias is going to kick in that this really is the best degree in the world. Added to that they will have selected students who are already really good at studying. Of course they’ll be successful. And finally, as my colleague Mark Fenton-O’Creevy suggested in this tweet, they’ll network with successful people and get good jobs:

What this means is that you could be teaching them via the medium of tapioca and it will still be a successful programme on many measures. That doesn’t mean tapioca based pedagogy is a model that should be widely adopted.

But these types of programmes always get reported and then there is pressure on colleges and unis to learn from them. I know that you know this, but I’ll state it plainly for those who are swayed by such things: Any approach that is grounded in exclusivity and high selectivity is by its nature, meaningless to a wider context.

I’d also suggest it’s just really boring and easy – you can always succeed with these types of approaches and investment. Any innovation in education needs to be grounded in equitable access and low resource – that’s when you really have to get creative.

25 Years of OU: 2001 – UKeU

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Before MOOCs, before FutureLearn, and all the rest, there was a bold venture to deliver online education globally. In 2000 the UK Government announced the launch of the UK eUniversity (UKeU). It was effectively acting as a portal and broker for UK universities to deliver online courses to a global audience at the heart of the first elearning boom.

I was part of a team, along with Robin Mason and Chris Pegler, who developed a new Masters course, Learning in the Connected Economy, as part of the MAODE. The course was one of three from different unis that formed the first wave of UKeU offerings. As such we were developing the courses simultaneously (often ahead of) the new platform that was being built by Sun.

These first three courses turned out to be pretty much the only courses, and the UKeU failed publicly. There were a number of reasons for this, which have been analysed often enough. From my perspective the key issues were being caught up in the internet business boom at the time (this was pre- the first internet bubble burst). The UKeU had offices around the corner from Buckingham Palace – because a virtual organisation needs some of the most expensive real estate offices in the country, right? They spent a lot on creating their own platform which never quite delivered, because none of the existing products were quite good enough. But ultimately, the business model relied on too many people taking a slice – the universities were selling courses with all the usual (and often a lot more expenditure), the UKeU needed to recoup those expensive offices costs, and there were local recruiters in different countries acquiring students. It began to look like a pyramid selling scheme (as so many ed tech ventures do).

At this distance from it though, there are some positive aspects to be taken from the experience. The UKeU platform was built around the idea of learning objects (the dream was we’d all share content via the platform). This was mostly a hideous nightmare of manually entering metadata, but it also made us rethink pedagogy. To this day, I still write my content in a ‘learning object style’ – that is each activity is largely self-contained. Our design was that within any one week students could select to study some learning objects, and others were compulsory. Because these were independent it gave a lot of freedom to study. I think this model still has a lot to offer.

Another useful lesson was the value of software. It is both expensive and worthless. At the end of the project, despite having spent 20-30 million on the platform, if no-one wants to take it on, it isn’t worth £1. This is different from physical resources – you’d be able to sell that office furniture for something. This is obvious now, but it was an epiphany for me back then.

The last thing I gained from it personally was being involved in something resembling a start-up culture. It was exciting, exhausting and largely divorced from reality. It helped make me a bit immune from that kind of bullshit when it really became big towards the end of the decade.

It was interesting then to see the MOOC hype in 2012, as it revisited a lot of the ambition around the UKeU. This wave has been more successful – FutureLearn, Coursera, etc have gained more students and lasted longer than the UKeU. This is a bit of a thread in 25 Years of Ed Tech – a lot of ideas come round several times. Arguably the UKeU wasn’t that flawed as a proposition – it was just too early.

Covid 19 bit. Firstly, appreciate that back in 2001 elearning was a big thing that was going to take over the world, so don’t think it’s new. Someone will come up with a new version of UKeU as everyone suddenly shifts online. Maybe it will work, but at least make the effort to go back and review what went wrong last time around.

GO-GN community in a time of crisis

I thought I’d post an update the work we’ve been doing with the GO-GN network during the pandemic. I know other people run similar types of networks and communities, and so I thought I’d share what we’ve been doing (and also get any other suggestions for what else we could be doing).

GO-GN is a Doctoral network of OER/OEP researchers globally. It combines a lot of online community building and a strong face to face element usually. We bring around 15 researchers together every year for a 2 day seminar, which then goes into a conference (OEGlobal or OER). This is a very intense few days and our members often form life-long bonds as a result. But of course, in pandemic this was not possible and OEGlobal was cancelled. So we’ve been trying to come up with alternatives and also do extra things to help during this time.

So here’s a list of things we’ve done:

  • Organising individual sessions – we offered a range of slots across different time zones where individual researchers could meet with two of the team to discuss progress and any issues.
  • Ran a one day online seminar around OER20, with researcher presentations and feedback
  • Joined ALT as an organisation so all our members have access to ALT mailing lists, webinars, resources etc
  • Organised a Gasta session for the ALT Summer Summit, featuring six of our members
  • Launched a fellowship programme for small funded research projects to help alumni and contribute research to the community
  • Set up and contribute to a network WhatsApp which is aimed at just informal chat
  • Produced an open access OER Research Methods Guide with contributions from the network on all the methods they have used (complete with Bryan Mathers artwork below)
  • Organising three one day online seminars in September, October and November to replace the face to face one at OEGlobal.
  • Sponsored places at the ALT Summer summit and OEGlobal for members to attend.

If you have other good ideas then please let me know. In all this I think just maintaining contact has been important, and demonstrating we are present still. I don’t know if all of the above will be successful, but I think like many people and institutions, it’s the trying that counts. Trying to support people, be flexible and be kind. And remember, if you, or someone you know, is doing a PhD/EdD in the area of OER or OEP, then you can apply to join the GO-GN.

25 Years of OU – 2000: Open Source Teaching Project

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Towards the end of the 90s, the viability of the open source approach to software development gained credence. I’ll address the issues with open source later, but at the time it was a significant challenge to conventional, capitalist thinking that software which was as good, if not better, than commercial products could be realised through a community driven model. Like Wikipedia versus the Encyclopedia Britannica, it made no sense that this approach could produce such robust, reliable, functional outputs – and yet it did.

The cultural change since then is interesting. At the time the open source approach was seen as almost unassailably positive, set against the evils of corporations such as Microsoft. Since then though, sexism and lack of diversity in open source has come to light as a major issue. It’s too often a tech bro playground. This is not an inevitable outcome of the open source approach, and people who understand the culture better than I have been proposing more equitable models. But I do think an element of hero worship is a problem in the open source approach, and how the community starts is very significant, so it needs careful setting up to develop an equitable community. For instance, Linus Torvalds was being tongue in cheek with his call for participation at the start of Linux, when he posted:

Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers? Are you without a nice project and just dying to cut your teeth on a OS you can try to modify for your needs? Are you finding it frustrating when everything works on minix? No more all-nighters to get a nifty program working? Then this post might be just for you 🙂

But the result is that it gathered lots of dudes around him who then created the type of culture and what is valued in that culture, so that later it became an often hostile environment for women.

But to return to our project, at the time what was interesting was a radical new model for creating complex products. Distance education courses are not unlike pieces of software: they require multi-disciplinary teams, testing, iteration, are comprised of different interacting components and are ‘used’ by a wide range of people who will do unpredictable things with them. The OU had developed a robust model for developing these courses which was analogous to the software product development team in a commercial developer such as Microsoft. The open source model offered a different analogy to draw from.

Led by John Naughton, Tony Hirst and Stewart Nixon, the Open Source Teaching project at the OU sought to develop a course production model based on this analogy. Tony did an excellent job of writing up the project back in 2001, with the process being:

  • educators will submit educational materials to a depository. Community review of these materials will check their quality, a model loosely based on the peer review.
  • Once the quality of the material has been assured, it may be promoted to the resource bank. The promotion process requires that the item being promoted is marked up with appropriate metadata
  • Materials in the resource bank may now be extracted by distributors

The model is summarised below:

The project never really took hold, for a number of reasons, partly because it was too difficult to overcome existing practice and the rewards for sharing weren’t viable enough. This might be an example where the OU was too cautious, and could have pushed on this, before MIT launched Open CourseWare a couple of years later.

What is interesting, I think, is that a number of different people were independently thinking along the same lines. This found realisation in learning objects and then later OER. But we’ve still not really cracked a community based production model for learning content.

Covid 19 bit: Now that ALL unis are going online to an extent, the argument for community based production models becomes relevant again. I’ve written about the pain of learning objects often enough not to advocate their return, but when we’re still stuck in basically a proprietary model of content production, then now might be the time to consider more cooperative models. OER and open textbooks have shown how this can be done, but there may be other approaches that can be made to work at a national level.

25 Years of OU – 1999: e-learning works at scale!

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I should stress that lots of people at the OU across all disciplines were working on online versions of courses. There were all online versions of existing courses, elements of online in blended courses, fully online postgrad courses, etc. So, the online course I mentioned in the previous post wasn’t a radical intervention that no-one else had considered. But T171 did have two things going for it – it was undergraduate, fully online & it had big numbers. The combination of these two helped settle the “is elearning for us?” argument pretty decisively.

On the experience of this course and getting into elearning I would write a book, Delivering Learning on the Net, which came out in 2002, but was developed around this time (unfortunately this was pre-open access days and I don’t have a digital copy any longer). I picked it off my shelf the other day, and some of it has dated, but given what’s been happening with the online pivot, what was telling was how relevant it still was. This was not due to amazing prescience on my part, but an absence of progression in the thinking around elearning. It has become part of the mainstream on campus in many respects but fully online learning still remains something of an exotic beast to many in higher ed. There is a chapter on debunking Elearning myths (including “elearning will mean declining standards” and “elearning is good for training and not education” which have both made a reappearance in various guises in the online pivot) and another on pedagogies for online teaching (ie not replicating the lecture online).

But what I really wanted to emphasise in this post was the scaling of the approach. I wrote about it in a paper with my colleague Ley Robinson in 2002, but in 1999 we were piloting the course while putting in place the systems for the large scale delivery in 2000. This involved recruiting around 600 part time tutors (Associate Lecturers), many of whom were new to the OU. We created a hierarchy of forums with each student having access to their tutor group forum and some region wide general forums. Tutors had access to a regional forum, and moderators of these had access to the module team forum, where they could bring issues to bear. This scaling worked well, and as I’ve argued before, refutes Downes’ claim that only connectivism scales.

As the article states, the key thing we needed to realise was the personal experience within a large scale course:

There was thus an inherent tension in the presentation of T171 for the course team. On the one hand, they had to implement large-scale efficient systems for the delivery of material, administering of computer conferences, dealing with assessment and putting in place support systems for students and tutors. They also had to ensure that the course accommodated students’ individual needs and provided an intimate, personal experience.

This was realised through the recruitment and training of the ALs, the forum structure, social forums and flexible assessment.

Covid 19 bit: The takeaway for the online pivot is that it is possible to create online learning that works, even for large student numbers. This can still be a personal, human experience and does not need to rely on a ‘large lecture hall’ model. It is however, not cheap to do so, and necessitates employing and developing good people.

25 Years of OU – 1998: “I have an online course”

By 1998 I had experimented with an online tutor group, worked at summer school sessions on HTML and produced some web pages for courses and personal use. There was a lot of interest in the use of the web for distance learning, and elearning was gathering a good head of steam. I started going to educational technology conferences at this time (they were fun back then!).

I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to develop an OU undergrad course delivered entirely online. So using MS FrontPage HTML editor (for which, I plead forgiveness), I created a dummy. I chatted with John Naughton about it – he was one of the big internet enthusiasts at the OU and had been there since pretty much its founding. I remember showing him my mock up of a course web site and declaring “I think it’s about 80% there”. Because he knew better than to crush young enthusiasm he didn’t point out that it was in reality not even 8% there. He encouraged me to continue to develop a prototype and along with Gary Alexander we worked on a ‘skunkworks’ course project, which was outside of the formal structure. The driving principle was that all OU material would be delivered online – and if we did that, what would it look like?

Then in a meeting about the Technology Faculty’s foundation course, it was demonstrated that we really didn’t have a replacement ready and by 2000 it was going to need a serious overhaul. The staff to do this weren’t available and so we were in a bit of a bind. I can’t remember if it was John or I who said “well, we have a replacement we could have ready for pilot next year.”

I’ve blogged enough about T171, and i found some old content in Scribd. If you’re interested there are some academic publications on the use of narrative in the course here, issues of scaling up, and assessment approach. We produced it in a short time frame, it piloted in 1999 and in 2000 launched officially with nearly 15,000 students. It marked the OU’s shift to elearning in a significant way for example because we had to recruit nearly 600 online tutors, many of whom then went on to stay with the OU in different roles it increased the knowledge base of online education. It also brought a lot of new students to the OU who hadn’t studied with us before, and for a Technology/Computer course had over 50% women in the cohort. Because of the way funding worked back then, the OU were under on our projected student numbers, which meant that we would not only lose their funds but be punished in future rounds. By running a second presentation of the course in 2000 we met the requisite student numbers and brought a significant financial boost to the OU (you’re welcome).

But in 1998 we were still writing it, and being told by many people that students didn’t want to study that way, that it was unfair to students, that you couldn’t do meaningful distance ed this way, it was a fad, and so on. Which is partly why when the Times Higher run pieces like this, I get a little antsy on Twitter. What I learnt from the process back in 1998 was:

  • it really helps to have someone well respected and connected like John to absorb the institutional uncertainty;
  • sometimes (only sometimes though!) ignorance is a blessing – because I was unaware of the actual complexities of creating an OU course I could propose doing this, whereas if I had been truly knowledgeable I would’ve seen all the problems;
  • allowing room for experimentation can have big benefits – I spent time playing around developing the course before there was an official course. This was work time that could have been a complete waste of time;
  • sometimes you have to trust your instincts. Market research amongst our own students suggested online learning may not be that popular, and there were lots of limitations, but it was clear to a few of us that it would be significant. So, better to do it then that play catch up a few years later.

Covid 19 bit: The most obvious bit here is – hey you can create online courses that students like to study! Strangely, this still seems to be big news. More helpfully, I think the model we developed for T171 is pretty useful to adapt and can help speed production. We had three blocks, each based around a published book. Students were directed to read parts of that, we created some content to expand on issues, and some to fill in gaps. Then there were activities to discuss and develop skills. But use of the books really helped create a spine for the modules. You could now do this by adapting OER content, for example an open textbook from BC Campus might form the spine, or some material from OpenLearn.

I’ll cover our scaling up model in a later post, but consider this assessment: we had no final exam and instead students created websites (we provided a free WYSIWYG HTML editor) which they submitted as zip files, which we then unpacked on to a server so the two independent markers could access them. We set out what the content of the website should address but not the style – and phew, did we get a range of designs! Clipart gifs were definitely a thing back then. But what I want to stress is that if we could do this with first year undergrad students on a distance ed course back in 1999, then you can find a way to do away with an exam in 2020.

For now, let us revel in some of that GIF magic, courtesy of GIFCities:

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