Dr. Nicola Pallitt’s Story…

Generously shared by @nicolapallitt

Lecturer, Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching (CILT) at The University of Cape Town, South Africa

My scholarly career and involvement in openness is still evolving, but what I’ve noticed is that these have been evolving together. My sense is that this also involves an entanglement of my educator and researcher identities. My open story is a reflection, it’s also about re-use and re-envisioning OERs and open practices. Not from a theoretical perspective, but from a practitioner’s perspective and someone who is located in South Africa (global south). Our open stories and perspectives on openness are shaped by our experiences as well as where we are located in the world. Let’s see what comes up when we allow our open artefacts as traces of our past and current practices to speak…

My open journey started in 2012 when I was a tutor (I tutored while doing my PhD) leading a second year seminar in Media Studies on social media where one of the assignments I gave students was to make a video (individual task, 20 students). At the time this kind of multimodal assessment was very novel and I think still is. In 2013 I created an OER guide with a colleague where I shared practices and processes for student video projects:

http://open.uct.ac.za/handle/11427/7396 Today it has had 1322 views. But impact is not about the number of views in a repository. Things take a while from sitting in a repository to having a ‘life’, being reused, etc. Impact doesn’t happen overnight. Impact is about people, users, reusers and the reflections of folks who at one point thought it might be good to share a resource as an OER. Often it’s also not about the thing, but about the practices and events surrounding its use. Who it benefits, in which context, at what time, etc. I think a fixation with the ‘thingness’ of OERs and measuring impact can create a blindness and is not very open.  

So in that Media Studies seminar I taught my students about copyright, finding open images and music so the guide includes that too. I didn’t know about the concept of open education or open education practices, but I was doing it and getting my students involved too.

I also designed an assessment where students had to tweet. (2012 seminar outline here, please excuse broken links to images). I was then asked to present for e/merge Africa (back then it was an online conference rather than regular online events) and to write a paper (link to paper and presentation in proceedings here – it was early days, I’ve grown a lot since then). These were my first interactions with CILT and my first paper as a practitioner researcher. My previous e/merge presentation and paper was from one of my chapters from my MA thesis, also my first open access publication (IJEDICT in 2009 here). This year is the 4th year that I’ve been working in CILT as a lecturer and being part of the e/merge Africa team. I am also involved in work that involves growing a community of educational technology practitioner researchers. So what started as an innovative practice that then became and OER then morphed into a whole bunch of other things.

But back to that OER… Interesting things have happened regarding reuse, most notably last year (2016). A lecturer in Environmental Sciences found it and wanted to use it with her students. We worked together to design a video project for her students (they made videos in small groups). She then presented on it for a CILT seminar. A recording is available here (more seminars for interest here). So in sum, she was sharing her practice too – this was something I found very rewarding, knowing that I could make an impact for this lecturer and her 80 students.

Another instance was when a colleague from an NGO was teaching a paid for workshop and wanted to use this resource and brought up the fact that it had non-commercial in the license (NC). I gave him permission to use it anyway, but started reflecting on this resource… how open was it really? Did I care if others used it to make money? Not really.

Last year I also attended the AECT convention in Las Vegas. I met David Wiley face-to-face during a breakfast with the experts event. He spoke about this issue that sometimes a non-commercial license can be restrictive as well as the format of some OERs. He said that a PDF is the most closed format, as it is harder to adapt. I thought about this… we used Adobe InDesign to create this interactive PDF and while it might look great (granted one uses Chrome and the videos play inside of it) it was indeed not very flexible. This resource is on my bucket list to rework to make reuse easier.

This also got me thinking about another issue: so often we want to create ‘sexy’ looking OERs (i.e. visually appealing and thereby often high bandwidth) but these are not very easy to adapt. I realised it’s not about me and showcasing my skills, it’s about others and modelling a creative practice that is DIY. My sense of some OERs is that they are aimed at users rather than reusers. They look AMAZING but not easily adaptable. How can we design OERs for better reuse?

David Wiley said that sometimes a Google doc or Word can be more dynamic. While it might not look great (although some do), reuse is way easier. And I saw that last year during the national student protests in SA when lecturers were encouraged to teach online. At UCT this was voluntary, but at some other institutions it was a more of a top-down decision. How ethical this is, is another story and something my CPUT colleague Daniela Gachago presented on during an e/merge Africa webinar on recently related to the ethics of care. Anyway, back to reuse… Some of my CILT colleagues and I collaborated on a support guide using a Google doc (here and more resources here). Once we shared it, colleagues from other institutions started adapting it. Daniela even mentions doing so in the webinar – they released their guide two days after ours. That’s how quick reuse happened. There was a sudden hype around online teaching and learning and our expertise was shared across institutions in our country via this OER, whether in its original form or an adaptation by another institution.

We are still adapting it (as we were in a different space then we now see a lot of things we want to change so we edit it). It does not live in a repository. Personally I don’t think they are very flexible spaces. A while back I read somewhere that OERs go to repositories to die. If we don’t share links to these OERs and have good meta data, the reality is that they do. In the educational technology field where things change all the time, we need to be updating things constantly. Static resources are die-able resources, we want dynamic. My colleagues and I use Google docs a lot and since we are so used to working collaboratively using these tools, making some of these open and then linking to these dynamic OERs makes more sense to us.

Back to re-use…

In 2015 I started co-facilitating on the e/merge Africa fully online facilitating online course. I did the course myself, then became a co-facilitator and now co-convener. My colleague Tony Carr was involved with the original course design and co-authored an OER course leader’s guide. Last year we started questioning the reusability of this resource… can you teach people how to facilitate online or how to set up an instance of this course from a book or PDF? Sometimes people need to visualise what this course looks like inside an LMS as well as some insight into the learning design of such a course – who is the target audience, how many participants and facilitators are needed to effectively run this course? What kind of technical support and behind the scenes open practices are required? It’s like having a textbook for students that comes with a teacher guide, but you’re only sharing the teacher guide. We realised that we needed a companion site and that people need to use the course leader’s guide and this site together to make reuse easier. This companion site is now in progress and can be viewed here. Suggestions are most welcome:) I am currently collaborating on this with Tony Carr, Catherine Fortune, Irene Maweu (e/merge Africa team) and Sam Lee Pan (Learning Technologies cluster in CILT).

I was so happy at OE Global conference earlier this year when I heard Brenda Mallinson talking about how she adapted activities from the Facilitating Online course for another course run by SAIDE (or their version of it, can’t remember). It was in the same slot as Tony and I presented so her presentation further supported what we were saying about reuse. We are currently in communication with her about things that might make reuse easier.

I was also excited when Chrissi Nerantzi tweeted ‘Is content education?’ There was some discussion and I came to think more deeply about about OERs and learning design, and how there is a need for original contexts of use and learning design choices that need to be made explicit (twitter conversation here). It’s not just about sharing an OER as a thing, there are a whole bunch of practices and processes that go along with it. Sometimes an OER can be quite useless without these insights. I believe this can help others to engage in similar thinking around their own learning design and be more aware about intentional reuse and adaptation of OERs so that these are used in contextually appropriate ways. I think this is the next evolution in openness, it’s about enabling reusers and not just users.

What I hope folks notice is that my open story is not just about me, it is also a story about colleagues who I collaborate with in various ways and the role of networking.

Last week my colleague Sam and I started adapting Joyce Seitzinger’s Moodle for Educators Tool Guide. It’s from 2010, available on her blog as a PowerPoint file and PDF – many people have adapted it. Once again David Wiley was right. Here is our Vula tool guide for educators (for interest: our LMS is built using Sakai and for interest the word ‘Vula’ means ‘open’ in isiXhosa). A printout is going into this year’s goodie bags for our annual UCT Teaching and Learning conference. Use and impact takes time.

So why do I do open? As an early career scholar it is something that has come quite naturally, I see myself as a networked scholar. I am also a contract staff member, so mobility is part of the reason. I want to reuse the materials I was involved in creating if my contract is not renewed and I have to look for another job. Perhaps I have less at stake than a permanent staff member and more room to move and be innovative? I believe my openness and ability to critically reflect on my practices also makes me more marketable. I am also working in a unit that has openness as part of its mission and our director, Laura Czerniewicz encourages us. I genuinely enjoy collaborating on open and advocating for open, as an educator and as a researcher. I believe that together we can have better impact and be more intentional in our practices. But I also believe that openness is nothing without networks. You’ve got to unleash the power of networks as our e/merge Africa tagline says.

I think there are also level of openness – open might not always mean publicly accessible, it’s also how you work with colleagues and students, what and where you share, in which format with the intention to benefit whom. Sometimes you can’t share something because it has copyright attached to it, but you can still use open practices. For example, in the Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Technology course Online Learning Design that I co-teach on (and co-designed), a colleague of mine (Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams) presented a wonderful overview of learning design models. However, all the visuals of these models are not open. I video all the teaching sessions and upload these as unlisted on YouTube and made an unlisted playlist for students so that they could revisit these along with Google slides and docs from the course. A past student emailed to say she still goes back to the videos from when she did the course. Interesting feedback from student observations was that we (the three lecturers, myself, Cheryl and Shanali Govender) do not compete. I did not really understand what they meant by this. But we contribute while the other is teaching, offer to help with things like advancing or editing Google slides on the fly or assisting with activities. This was new to many of our students – I realised they’re just not used to seeing people collaborating and openness happening in real time. So our open practices have entered our classroom through how we teach together and our students notice this.  

I mentioned the entanglement of my educator and researcher identities. My openness as an educator has infiltrated my research life. Open practices have also helped me as a researcher – I think I’m much more open to feedback and revision because of it. It’s also helped my online visibility and digital traces of my openness have become my portfolio – I know I need to curate all these things a bit better, but I think that sharing my open story is a good start.

At the moment I am collaborating on a book chapter on gaming in the global south. I emailed the editor and presented an argument for making the book open access: what’s the point if readers (game studies researchers in the global south marginalised in so many ways – in the field although this is changing, access to funding to attend conferences, buy books, etc) aren’t able access it? If we want to grow this community open access is the way. When I attended this year’s DiGRA conference in Melbourne (I was the only person there from the African continent) we had a conversation at the workshop and collaborators agreed that this was a good idea. So even as an early career researcher doing work in what I see as a sub-field of educational technology, I am advocating openness. I don’t wish to demonise scholars in the global north – I learn much from them. How they share pre-publication chapters and journal articles on Academia.edu with the correct license and acknowledgement. I have started to copy this practice. Neil Selwyn is very good at this if folks would like to see an example. I interviewed Maha Bali last year about her open practices and perspective and agree, it is an ethical imperative for scholars in the global south to make their work open.

But we also have to be critical about our choices, who we believe we are empowering through openness and are we really empowering them or is there some some weird neo-imperialist assumption going on? Even this online discussion on Zoom – due to bandwidth constraints, some colleagues might not be able to access it. They might not have used the tool before and know that one can turn off the video feed and just have audio. This is why we only use voice and slides for our e/merge Africa webinars – it’s less bandwidth intensive. This format is also the outcome of choices – who is the audience, what is their access like, how might they participate. Even the idea of a webinar is quite a northern high bandwidth and digital literacies thing – so how do we do things differently? How do we make webinar participation more open?  

Thank you for the opportunity – it has been a very useful reflective exercise for me and I hope my story inspires others to share their open stories too. I’d be interested to continue conversations around critical openness in the global south and practices as knowledge. Something I’ve learnt: Your vibe attracts your tribe – if you’re open, you will be drawn to others with shared values and they will be eager to engage with you too. Be bold, be open, but also be critical.   

Info: http://www.101openstories.org/amazingstories/four-hours-of-open-storytelling-july-24-july-28/


Dr. Nicola Pallitt is a lecturer in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town. As part of the unit’s course and curriculum design team, Nicola is involved in a variety of curriculum innovation initiatives and assists university staff with blended and online learning design. She co-teaches on programmes in educational technology and assists with staff development workshops. Nicola is a member of the e/merge Africa team, an online professional development network for educational technology researchers and practitioners in African higher education. Nicola’s research interests include ePortfolios and multimodal assessment, digital games and game culture in the Global South as well as the intersection between culture, learning and technology. She is passionate about the study of digital social interaction and participation in various contexts more generally, although she is currently mostly involved in Higher Education.

Gotta make an open story open after all!

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