What is OER?
As I mentioned in previous posts, OER is defined as digitized educational materials offered freely and openly for use and re-use in teaching, learning and research.
Using OER in education presents some important challenges:
- Globalization of the knowledge societies, related to the rise of knowledge-intensive societies and the demand for skilled population.
- Challenges to education systems: extend reach of education, improve quality and flexibility.
Could the technology help?
The developments of new technical solutions, the increasing connectivity, the growing numbers of low-cost devices and the rising of open digital content create the infrastructure to facilitate knowledge sharing in a global context with social, economic and cultural differences.
OER: an academic and cultural challenge
The explosive increase of OER reinforces the tradition of the altruist academic sharing. Initiatives like MIT OpenCourseWare, the UNESCO actions, the OpenCourseWare Consortium movement, and others initiatives opened a wide debate about OER implications, about their advantages and disadvantages in educational systems in different parts of the world.
OER and the cultural context
OER content that is useful in a cultural, academic and economic development is not always applicable in a different context.
When a university is considering the use of open content in the development of their subjects, must carefully consider the relevance and implications of implementing OER and imagine the prospects for participation in the OER movement as institution.
The participation of the universities in this movement implies to go beyond its role like users of open contents to an active role to share the didactic materials developed by its teachers. This step raises important challenges; to develop pedagogical and technical skills between the teachers to develop to interactive contents and methods of quality control.
Catherine Ngugi’s interview, project director of OER Africa, offers interesting views:
- Some resources created elsewhere, might not be culturally appropriate, or relevant to the other place.
- Connectivity is one of the practical challenges.
- An important point is availability of free licences, with permission for free use.
- The support from university management is crucial.
- The notion of open learning is an incentive for academics, but they need to know how to do it.
- The partnership with other universities is a key issue.
For more detail, read the Catherine Ngugi’s interview (http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2010121021305756)
Through the elearning training we are trying to encourage teachers to make more use of video and other multimedia content in their courses. This presents us with several issues, mainly because most video streaming sites are blocked by the University (to save bandwidth). This means we either don’t include the videos or we download to run them locally. So far we’ve just been uploading them into the Moodle course, which is fine for relatively low numbers of videos (or for very short videos), but is soon going to become unsustainable. Also, we’d like to suggest video content teacher may wish to use – so it wouldn’t be appropriate to have these filling up the Moodle server.
One solution is to use a multimedia management streaming server, so over the last few days I’ve been testing out Kaltura. It’s an open source video content platform and has plugins for Moodle, WordPress amongst others.
Installation was straightforward enough on my laptop, once I’d got the necessary prerequisite packages installed and settings. Couple of issues I did come across:
1) On my first attempt at installation, it installed on the root of my webserver, so I was unable to access my other web applications. This was because I specified ‘localhost’ as the domain. I tried to figure out how to move to a subdirectory (see: http://www.kaltura.org/moving-installation-new-directory) but haven’t got that one figured out yet. So I just set up a new host (http://kaltura.localhost) and used this instead. So now I can access Kaltura and my original webapps, with out switching configurations and restarting apache.
2) When the prerequisites say that you need a mail server, it really does mean that you need one! After installation, when creating publisher accounts, the login details are emailed only – so there’s no way to set the password except by following the link in the email. I assumed I’d be able to reset the passwords manually and so the mail server integration wouldn’t matter to much. Given that this is just running on my laptop, I haven’t got a mail server running, so then had to set about trying to get one configured. Fortunately I found these instructions on how to configure postfix to relay through a gmail account on Ubuntu (I’m running 10.10). I set up a clean/default postfix installation and used the settings/instructions posted in the comments by Michael M. I used a ‘disposable’ gmail account, so that if something goes wrong, I won’t get blocked from my normal gmail account, but seems to be working well so far. It’s also good now that I can have emails sent for all the webapps on my machine.
So after I had these 2 issues resolved, I was ready to start having a play. All seems to be working well, although I was hoping that people would be able to browse the uploaded content without having first logged in. I guess we’d just need to create a generic account. If anyone knows how to set this up then please let me know – or if there is a generic Kaltura content browser application that I could use?
I tried uploading a few flv and mp4 videos to embed onto a webpage, and seem to work well. A little slow on my machine, but then my netbook probably isn’t designed to be a media processing and streaming server!
My final experiment was to look at the Moodle plugin, unfortunately I had a few more issues with getting this working. When trying to register the module in Moodle, I kept getting the error that ‘Your Kaltura registration failed. Missing KS. Session not established’ when trying to enter the url, username and password for my Kaltura server. After a bit of investigation I found it was a bug with how the partnerId was(n’t) being passed. I found a hack around this, see: http://www.kaltura.org/config-moodle-mod-moodleadmin-page, but it’s not pretty!
Now I have the option to add a video resource in Moodle directly from my Kaltura server, or so I thought I had, currently whatever I seem to search for (tags, video titles, categories which I know exist in the account I have) returns no results. Next step is to try and figure out why I can’t seem to find any of the videos I have uploaded…
The thin client solution we currently have running in Mekelle is based on using OpenSolaris and we have a variety of terminals – a mixture of SunRay 1′s, SunRay 2′s and Nortech clients. Using sun ray session server, the sunray terminals are performing well, but when we have the labs full of students, the Nortech terminals are significantly less responsive. There are a number of possible reasons for this, the protocols used, the network amongst others. There is a huge range of other configurations and technologies we could use to provide a robust and scalable thin client architecture.
I’ve spent a few days this week in Barcelona with Cast-Info investigating their Desktop4All solution, which we’re looking to trial as an alternative to the OpenSolaris setup we currently have. Goitom, one of the phds students from Mekelle will spend the next few weeks based in the Cast-Info offices, learning how to install and set up the server system used for Desktop4All, with a view to installing this when back in Mekelle in a couple of months.
Desktop4All, based on Linux, is a set of integrated open source applications. It’s likely to produce a similar end result to the solution that we already have running with OpenSolaris, but the main advantage for us will be in the support and documentation available as a reference. Testing out Desktop4All will give us the opportunity to collaborate in the development and to investigate whether we get similar types of issues arising as we have had with OpenSolaris.
When we started the Digital Campus project, I think there was some concern over whether the students would need much training in how to use a non-Windows operating system, given that much (all?) of their previous experience of using computers/pcs was with Windows (usually XP). This has turned out not to be the case, given that many students have had limited time to become locked in Windows, we’ve found few issues with students being unable to navigate the interface or use applications. I suspect we don’t always give the students credit for their ability to adapt to new interfaces and systems (especially judging by how quickly they find their way to webmail, youtube and facebook).
I spent my final week in Mekelle helping to run student induction sessions for the Health Sciences college. We now have around 600 students registered on elearning courses (from both Technology Institute and Health Sciences College), with over a third of these having completed our initial student survey – so we should be able to get some good information about their expectations and previous computing experiences.
As always, my last few days in Mekelle were very hectic – my workload seems to increase as I get nearer to my departure date! But we have now got over 20 classrooms in the Health Sciences College connected up to the network, with projectors and computers, so teachers no longer have to carry their laptops to be able to give a presentation, plus they have access to the internet within the classroom. Currently these computers are running on Windows, but we’ll change this so they boot across the network and act as thin client machines.
I was also helping to advise the Technology institute on how they can massively increase their computing infrastructure using the thin client model. They have many 100′s of old monitors to make use of. There is a long way to go to get this set up, especially as the institute needs to staff and train an ICT team/department.
We still have some issue regarding the fact that the labs we have aren’t able to cope with the number of students wanting to use them. I’m getting a lot of requests to allocate specific times for classes, but I’m being quite firm that the labs should remain open access, rather than becoming a substitute for the lack of maintenance in the departmental computer labs.
Am now trying to have a bit of time off in the UK (without getting bogged down in emails about the labs, training etc!), before heading to Spain to work at Alcala Uni for a few months.
This week has been extremely varied and busy. On Monday I started off by helping with the student induction sessions for the Technology Institute students. Mesi and Berihu (the elearning team in the institute) are now able to run the inductions themselves, so I don’t need to get involved with these any more. So in less than 3 weeks, we have gone from training the teachers in how to get their courses online to having students enrolled on the online courses they have created.
Then on Tuesday I gave a couple of presentations about the Digital Campus project and Open Educational Resources to the languages department. Andrew and Elinor from Clarity were back in Ethiopia to run some training for their English language improvement software, so my presentations were to help inform the languages department about how they may want to use elearning in their teaching.
I spent Wednesday morning helping to interview 13 people for 3 lab attendants posts to look after one of our computer labs and to work in shifts so the lab can be open 24 hours a day. The interviews were extremely short – only 5-10 mins each and the candidates had the choice of whether to speak in Amharic or English, so in the end there was only one candidate I could give an opinions on as they had answered the whole interview in English. Although I couldn’t understand every word, I could tell that the level of training at some of the private colleges was a little suspect (many had their IT diplomas from private colleges in Mekelle). For example, in response to my question about what they would do if a student had a problem with their password, over half replied that they’d use password cracker software (or at least I heard the words ‘password cracker software’ in their Amharic response).
Later in the afternoon I travelled up to Wukro again to accompany Mahmud (another of the phd students at Alcala) on some of his research field work. He’s looking for particular types of parasites in children, so is going out to rural schools and doing blood, urine and stool tests on a subset of the students.
On Thursday we headed out to Sherafo school (about 30 mins drive off the main road from Agula) to complete the testing he’d started there the day before. Our lab was set up in the model classroom at the school and whilst Mahmud was interviewing the children and their parents, I was helping the rest of the team weigh and measure the children – improving my Tigriyan numbers at the same time. I’m not sure how much a disruption my presence at the school was, most of the children spent a long time staring at me.
I was also looking at whether the cameras on the smart phones were going to be good enough to take photos of the microscope slides, so they could be attached to other questionnaire/interview data being recorded on the phone application. The unfortunately predictable answer was no – the only way we could get even halfway recognisable photos was to use a proper digital camera with macro setting.
On Friday morning I caught the bus back to Mekelle and was up at the Arid campus by just after 9am. I went to look at the refurbished PC lab that’s still being built. The furniture was just being installed, but there’s no sign yet of the network or electrical work that we’ve been waiting quite some time for. Although the tables use a similar design to those I had made for the other lab, I wonder how long the new tables will actually last. The sliding keyboard shelves feel like they’ll break quite easily.
In more positive news, over at Ayder campus in the afternoon, I arrived to find that all 22 classrooms were now networked. The college dean had asked for this to be done only about 2 weeks ago. Each classroom also has a projector and an old desktop computer. So next week all we need to do is get the computer configured to boot from our server and all the classrooms can have internet and other computing facilities.
I’m now going to have a relaxing weekend
I have spent the past 4 days visiting rural Health Posts with my colleague Araya. His phd is looking at the gaps of the Health Extension Workers (HEWs), specifically related to maternal health. Once the gaps are known, the next stage will be to design a programme to fill the hole in knowledge/skills, possibly using technology to help deliver the training.
Altogether he’ll interview 150 HEWs at over 100 Health Posts in 3 districts in Tigray. Over the 4 days I’ve been out with him, he managed to interview 18 HEWs at 14 health posts. Each day has been long – leaving Wukro around 7 am and not returning until after 7pm, so 12 hours to conduct about 5 interviews, each interview lasting about an hour or more.
I’ve been helping with the technology support and will be helping look at what could be appropriate to use in this context. Not all the concerns I mentioned in my earlier post have been realised.
The GPRS coverage has been far better than I’d expected, out of the 13 posts we visited, only one had no mobile or GPRS coverage. A couple had patchy coverage – but it was working for some of the time during our approx 2 hour visits. This is really positive from the point of view of the technology we might like to use in the future.
However, none of the posts had an electricity supply. A couple had electricity poles running very close to the building, but they weren’t connected up. In most cases there wasn’t any electricity supply to the village at all.
My phone battery got to be a real problem for me, despite having wireless and bluetooth turned off, I found that battery was only lasting for about 8-9 hours. I was using the GPS quite a lot, but even on the first couple of days when I was only briefly turning the GPS on (to get the coordinates for the posts), this only gave me a couple of extra hours battery life.
All except one of the HEWs we met had a mobile phone. The reason for the one exception was that she worked at the post with no mobile coverage, so she’d given her phone to a relative. Which for me than raised the question of how they charge the phones given there’s limited power supply. The answer to this was that they must travel to the town to charge their phones (this could be a 2-3 hour walk), or they send the phones with someone else going to town.
The HEWs have very limited English (although much better than my Tigrinya), so delivery of any training materials must be in either Amharic or Tigrinya to have any chance of being effective. One of Araya’s questions is about their use of text messaging, many don’t use text messaging simply because they don’t know the latin alphabet well enough.
What I’ve seen over the past few days is only a small proportion of all the posts that Araya will eventually be covering, but it’s likely that the further interviews will reinforce what we’ve already found out – rather than raising any new issues or significantly altering the results to date.
Over the coming months (after some more of the interview have been conducted), we’d like to get the results from the technology aspects written up into a paper.