Realising the full potential of e-learning


The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has just endorsed a recommendation to promote e-learning. This recommendation draws on the discussions that took place at preparatory e-conference on 1 October 2007, in which the UNU Media Studio participated via video conference (see post).

The good news is that the recommendation contains specific reference to the importance of promoting open source software and open educational resources, as proposed by the UNU. Here is the direct quotation:

“E-learning can be a powerful means of creating open educational resources accessible to everybody thus counteracting a divided knowledge society. In this regard, the Assembly calls on member parliaments to support the so-called “open source” movement in software development and initiatives for open educational resources – freely accessible on the Internet, and to adopt measures to combat the digital divide in order to close the gap between those who have access to ICT and the acquisition of ICT skills and those who do not, thus ensuring digital literacy for all.”

This is a truly important development for Europe.


by Brendan Barrett on June 12, 2008 - Comments (01)  

Online Seminar on Openness!

ppdlaToday, the UNU Media Studio participated in an online seminar with the Pan-Pacific Distance Learning Association. We were talking about Open Content, Open Software and Open Learning. The presenters were Paul McKimmy from the University of Hawaii, Scott Belford from the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation and myself from the UNU.

We used Elluminate to connect everybody and as a presented it was a really interesting experience. I am pretty comfortable now making presentations over video conferencing. However, with Elluminate you really need to multi-task since there is are plenty of options for audience interaction.

They can raise their hands for questions, give you a smiley face or thumbs down, or you can poll their opinions. It is all pretty seamless, but takes some getting used to.

We were looking to have excellent moderators from the UH College of Education – Peter Leong and Adam Tanners – who basically kept an eye on things. Thanks so much fro this valuable experience!


by Brendan Barrett on April 23, 2008 - Comments (02)  

Where to next for open educational resources?

the-oer-agendaAre you curious about the notion of open educational resources? Is it just another way of saying open courseware or open content? There is a new report from Susan D’Antoni and her team at UNESCO that goes some way to answering the above questions. There is an online version that you can explore and edit.

The report is the output of deliberations by a community of 600 interested stakeholders from across the globe who corresponded via a mailing list between 2005 and 2007 (how time flies!). The UNU was one member of this community.

I am really impressed by both the report and the way that UNESCO has developed this project – it is community based, interactive and uses open technologies, such as wikis. In my view, this is a good model for other United Nations sponsored projects.

I borrowed the slide from the Open Content Holistic Research Environment blog.

by Brendan Barrett on March 11, 2008 - Comments (00)  

DIY Open Content

wordpressopencontentWhen I first read Brian Lamb’s post on easy and inexpensive course hosting, I missed the link he made to a presentation by Jim Groom and D’Arcy Norman at the Open Education 2007 Conference.

But I just followed the link and I am impressed by the way they went about presenting the idea of building your own courses in Wordpress (and hosting them at They don’t just talk about it, they do it and share the experience, including the limitations with anyone who is interested.

They give five reasons for using to build open content. It is free, has a large community of users, it is easy to use, has lots of services and its portable (if you out grow it, you can take your stuff with you). If you want to extend it, add to the code, you can set up Wordpress on your own server.

That is what we do at the UNU Media Studio. We also benefit from accessing the large number of plug-ins available. We build on these plug-ins and share back with the community.

They are right – developing and sharing open content should not be rocket science – anyone should be able to do it.

by Brendan Barrett on February 18, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Open Education and Elearning 2.0

Elearning 2.0John Seely Brown and Richard Adler have a really fascinating article in Educause Review with the title“Minds of Fire; Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.”

I especially like the circle of knowledge building and sharing diagram on creating, using and remixing that forms part of an open knowledge exchange zone (see picture)!

They also argue that we are witnessing the emergence of emergence of “new kinds of open participatory learning ecosystems that will support active, passion-based learning: Learning 2.0.”

The continue by stating that ..”this new form of learning begins with the knowledge and practices acquired in school but is equally suited for continuous, lifelong learning that extends beyond formal schooling. Indeed, such an environment might encourage students to readily and happily pick up new knowledge and skills as the world shifts beneath them.”

by Brendan Barrett on February 17, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Wordpress as a publishing tool for OpenCourseWare

It is really exciting to see that David Wiley has been experimenting with Wordpress to re-publish his course on “blogs, wikis and new media.” Here at the UNU we have been building courses in Wordpress for some time now and we have published three so far. In fact most of our websites at the UNU Media Studio are built in Wordpress. So it is good to see others exploring this impressive tool!

Oh yes, we have been customizing existing plug-ins like polyglot (for multi-lingual blogs) and building new ones to handling quizzes and slideshows. We are going to post them soon as a contribution back to the Wordpress community. We have also made it possible for people to download the entire course, upload it to their own Wordpress site or just run it locally. This allows them to totally customize the course.

I like the related comment regarding the use of Wordpress for course development from
Brian Lamb in his posting “Ridiculously easy and inexpensive course hosting will never fly.” He writes “This approach is fatally flawed in a number of respects and it will never catch on. For one thing, it is far too cheap, and can never justify escalating technology infrastructure budgets. Worse, instructors and students could adopt this technology with minimal assistance or oversight from instructional technology specialists. In this profoundly unserious framework, there is nothing to prevent students from previewing courses before they take them, or reviewing courses later on. Indeed, some “learner” might benefit from this content without being an enrolled student at all!.”

All very good reasons to continue with this approach to course development.

by Brendan Barrett on February 17, 2008 - Comments (00)  

OpenCourseWare in Japan


What Japan Thinks has just published the results of the goo survey on Opencourseware in Japan. The survey was conducted in December 2007 and covered 1,000 members of the goo Research monitor group and focused on materials available from universities within the Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium (the UNU plans to join JOCW in March 2008).


The respondents indicated that the main benefits of universities sharing their lectures where that universities would become more open (58%), it would be possible to compare courses (44%) and that this would raise interest in universities within society (43.5%).

Nearly 93% of those surveyed considered Opencourseware to be an extremely good or good thing, and a similar percentage indicated a desire to use the materials for either personal interest/education or as part of obtaining a qualification.

Educational materials that the respondents wanted to see most online where lecture notes/reference materials (70%) and lecture video recordings (57%). The fields of study that were of most interest were economics, information technology and business studies/marketing.

The main concerns regarding Opencourseware was that the lectures should be easy to understand (29%), should include a rich selection of courses (20%) and interesting lecture themes (19%).

by Brendan Barrett on February 14, 2008 - Comments (01)  

Launch of UN University Opencourseware

UN University OpencoursewareLast year, with support from the Joint Activity Fund, three UN University research institutes and the Media Studio worked together to develop the UN University Opencourseware portal, officially launched today, 4 February 2008. The aim of this pilot project was to publish at least ten courses as required in order to remain a member of the Global Opencourseware Consortium.
This initial collaboration brought together specialists from Macau (UNU-IIST), Canada (UNU-INWEH), the Netherlands (UNU-MERIT) and Japan (UNU-MEDIA), to publish courses on e-Governance, Innovation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation (mangroves and watersheds).
As the platform, we selected eduCommons developed by the Centre of Open and Sustainable Learning at the Utah State University, because it is both free and open source (well, semi open source to be more precise). We managed to customize eduCommons so that it would have the same look and feel as the main UNU website.
We hope that our current suite of opencourseware will prove useful to students and educators all over the world. In the future, we plan to expand the portal with the inclusion of courses from the remaining UNU institutes and programmes.

by Brendan Barrett on February 7, 2008 - Comments (00)  

What is all the fuss about?

CapetownI have to confess that I am somewhat surprised to see the confusion that the Cape Town Open Education Declaration seems to have caused. To be honest, I am just happy to see something like this emerging out of Africa, although some people seem to object to the fact that the declaration was initially put together by a relatively small group of people. The declaration is fine with me.
For some insights on the discussions surrounding this declaration take a look the critique from Stephen Downes and the response from David Wiley. They are both visionaries in their own right and leaders of the open educational resources movement, so this discussion is very important and very interesting.

By the way, I signed the declaration. Why don’t you?

by Brendan Barrett on February 7, 2008 - Comments (00)  

UNU recommendations to the Council of Europe

Presentation to the Parliamentary AssemblyOn 1 October 2007, the UNU Media Studio participated via video conference in a meeting organized by the Committee on Culture, Science and Education at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The title of this event was “Realising the full potential of e-learning at all levels of education.” The UNU proposed measures to transform the world wide web into a Global Learning Space, through the promotion of openness and collaboration in relation to content, software and network infrastructure. Four recommendations were presented.
First, UNU called more overseas aid to be directed at improving Internet connectivity for universities in Africa. The average African university has the same bandwidth capacity as an European household, but pays fifty times more than their educational counterparts in Europe. Second, UNU asked for more support for the notion of an Information Society Open to All. This makes both educational and economic sense, especially for Europe, which has the highest number of open source software developers in the world.
Third, UNU requested the Committee look into the role of educational fair use in the area of intellectual property and copyright, and to consider how best to promote new models of copyright such as Creative Commons. Last but not least, UNU recommended that consideration be given to the merits of transforming the European Credit Transfer Scheme (or something similar) into a global initiative that would further support inter-institutional networking and the emergence of common approaches to online learning amongst universities worldwide.
Videos and written presentations from the meeting can be found at the website of COE Parliamentary Assembly.

by Brendan Barrett on February 7, 2008 - Comments (00)  

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