Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations/Models of Open Education

In this chapter we will look at models for open education practice. Included are the philosophies underpinning them, and the costs and benefits assumed.

Screengrab of the Otago Polytechnic webpage for Open Education, Chainsaw maintenance videos

Open Educational Resources edit

How are people who are engaged in using OER material go about finding it?

It might be helpful to split “OER” into two over simplistic categories:

  1. Institution focused,
  2. Everyone else.

Institutionally focused OER look for packaged content like whole courses, whole text books, instructionally designed materials, etc. These are typically found in “Learning Object Repositories” like Merlot and Connexions, or in MIT Open Courseware, and IvyLeague MOOCs.

Everyone else focuses on more granular resources like images, videos, audio recordings, texts, web pages, etc. They typically use Google search, Creative Commons search, Open Journals, Open Standard Formats, Open Source Software, hardware and products

What are emerging as the engagement strategies of choice in the OER space?

For Institutions, IvyLeague MOOCs, and the platforms they promote (iTunesU, Coursera, MITOCW, etc)

For everyone else, The free University movement (such as Melbourne Free University, or Peer 2 Peer University), Wikimedia Commons (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikiversity), Flickr Creative Commons, Youtube Creative Commons, Vimeo CC,, Ubuntu/GNU Linux, Firefox, Chrome, Android

Do specific subject areas have specific OER databases that have become well established?

Institutions: Yes. Johns Hopkins for example, have a number of Health related Open Courseware; then many of the more central repositories have categories and taxonomies. Some have Folksonomies, such as Wikimedia Commons’ Category system

Everyone else: Yes. Mostly folksonomies centering around the big Wiki projects, but also Youtube Education (Where CC licenses are applied) CCLearn, Peer 2 Peer University, Wikiversity, School of Everything, Melbourne Free University, etc etc

Have particular OER search engines proven to be popular?

Many are not strictly search engines, but because they have become so huge, the search function on large repositories are effective search engines

  • Google’s Advance Search
  • Wikipedia and then the related projects like Wikimedia Commons
  • Youtube
  • Creative Commons Search
  • NLA Trove (though not strictly OER, projects like these have many resources that meet the requirements)

Have particular searching strategies through Google proven to be effective?

  • Not much beyond basic and advanced search. Google’s advanced search finds many “OER” but on closer inspection are not strictly OER. It is too often the case that people have licensed something CC By and it turns out they have not cleared all third party rights, and so it can't be used as OER.

At Otago Polytechnic, many staff use external web services to source and develop open educational resources and practices.

By using external web services such as these, the work of Otago Polytechnic is accessed and used far and wide. Most importantly, staff and students are able to develop a wider array of Internet related skills and increase their confidence in using digital approaches, as well as connect more readily to a variety of content, other learners and opportunities for forming professional partnerships.

Open Courses edit

In 2008 staff at Otago Polytechnic developed models for open access courses. Examples include:

As the features of wiki platforms evolve, the design of the course structure also tends to change. A structure based on activities and resources has been trialled with programmes, such as, Travel and Tourism and Horticulture. Other courses, for example, Flexible Learning and Facilitating Online have made use of the navigation and pedagogical templates created for WikiEducator. In the case of HIVAIDS for nursing, a book-like structure was used with a "page" for each topic.

Development structures for educational wikis edit

Several different structures in use for wiki-based educational materials and courses are described in this section. The structure chosen depends on the "look and feel" required for the materials, and the preference for navigation through the course and the information. For example, tabbing on a navigation bar may make it easier to see all the topics at a glance, or scrolling through information may be chosen over chunking. Read on to discover some of the options.

Reusable wiki course structure edit

This model of using a wiki for developing course outlines, learning activities and resource libraries was designed to make the work as reusable and open for collaboration as possible. It is based on the belief that a common document structure is what helps Wikipedia succeed, and that if such a structure was developed for educational resources, collaboration could be maximised. This model was inspired by Steven Parker, and his ideas about activity sheets in 2007, and cautioned by David Wiley's significant 2001 paper The Reusability Paradox. It remains to be seen if this structure is simple enough for teachers to implement. Vocational training which revolves around Assessment Unit standards and learning objectives, lends itself to the logic of this model, however, the skills shortage in the use of MediaWikis may hamper progress.

The structure revolves around the creation of Learning Objective Pages. These pages list a set of learning objectives related to a particular skill or knowledge attribute. Two sub pages attach to the Learning Objective pages:

  1. Library of Resources - as developers and support librarians encounter information and media relating to the learning objectives, they add links to this page.
  2. Learning Activities - as learning activities are devised, they are added to a list on this page.

Course Outline pages are developed separately, but are what bring a selection of Learning Objective pages and their Libraries and Activities together.

The Course Outline pages are free to be contextualised to whatever the expressive needs of the course may be. For this reason, it is important that the Learning Objective pages are worded in such a way so as to be as reusable in as many different contexts as possible, and to leave contextualisation to the Course Page or to the various Activities listed under the Learning Objective page.

Navigation and pedagogical templates edit

When a navigation template is used in WikiEducator, for example, a traditional web page navigation is provided which portrays all the topics and pages horizontally along the top of the wiki page. Users can also see the navigation template on each page making it easy to move between topics. Another template which is increasingly being used is the Project Navigation template which enables a professional looking homepage to be created. Both Flexible Learning and Facilitating Online use these templates.

Pedagogical templates are also increasingly being used to organise information, resources and activities in courses which use WikiEducator, and these provide structure as well as consistency for the appearance of the pages. The templates can easily be customised to suit the subject material and the preferences of the users. Learning to use the templates and create them requires some training, but is relatively easy to master once shown, or by following the tutorials about navigation templates and pedagogical templates on WikiEducator.

eBook template edit

The organisation of topics and content into a eBook has also been used. The advantage of this is a clean and uncluttered front page for the course, and a list of contents which links to the pages in the book. This approach was used for the HIV/AIDS for Nursing course development. The Blogging Handbook also uses an eBook approach with short chunks of content alongside a list of topics. It is easy to see at a glance what is covered in the book, and the way the pages are organised provides the feeling of a small handbook. The templates for eBook sites like this are more fussy to create, and not as easy to modify, if not an advanced wiki user. The concept of an open textbook is covered in the next section.

The open textbook edit

A screengrab of Otago Polytechnic's Vet Nursing textbook on Wikibooks: Anatomy and Physiology of Animals
A screen grab of the same textbook after desktop publishing, and loading to print on demand service

In 2008, developers at the Otago Polytechnic Educational Development Centre (EDC) designed a process for the production, publication and distribution of textbooks written by staff. Otago Polytechnic lecturer, Ruth Lawson was the first to use this process, and tested the approach with her Anatomy and Physiology of Animals textbook.

Anatomy and Physiology of Animals is a 269, A4 page textbook, which is authored, edited and updated on Wikibooks. As it is needed, a reformatted version is taken from the wiki, and uploaded for printing, binding and postal delivery via the web service. The Wikibook acts as a freely accessible digital version of the text, as well as enabling collaborative editing and student contributions. A stable version of the book is taken from the wiki, and offered on the Lulu website in a printed and perfect bound format for US$24 a copy. The printed version is always up to date and available on demand - that is, one order, one print, with ordering and postage handled by the Lulu service. Otago Polytechnic no longer has to commit to a print run of hundreds to achieve production cost savings, and no longer has to rely on poor quality, spiral-bound photocopied versions which used to sell at the same price.

Despite the availability of the free digital version, and despite the openness of the wiki and the relatively unrestricted copyrights over the book, almost all the students in Otago Polytechnic veterinary nursing courses where the book is used, choose to buy a printed Lulu book; this returns a royalty payment to the Veterinary Nursing Department each year to not only help to sustain the process but also provides a profit. A vision for the developers was to have students help update and edit the Wikibook each year, because by contributing to the new Lulu version they were theoretically creating a revised textbook for the next intake of students which doubled as a yearbook for the graduates to keep. Sales of the printed version of the textbook were more likely to remain steady as long as the price of the Lulu version remained below the cost of making a bootleg version with a photocopier.

Therefore, a textbook publishing model was created which does not rely on a publisher, exorbitant costs and printing runs, or copyright protectionism. It provides an author, or their employer with a royalty payment per sale, and ensures access and reusability to teachers and students without legal implications. Through the use of a platform such as Wikibooks, the model offers students an opportunity to increase their engagement with the text, and customise printed versions appropriate to their needs and means, which in-turn helps to sustain sales. Originally, the idea of an open textbook was considered economic suicide, however, this has proven to be the exact opposite. Another model for open learning which has been tested at Otago Polytechnic is the concept of informal learning, and this is discussed alongside the financial costs of formal learning.

Formal and informal learning edit

The Facilitating Online course was the first one to be used to test the concept of informal learning, that is, open participation without the need to enroll. Historically, the course was named Facilitating Online Learning Communities and started life in a closed Learning Management System with a brief to teach teachers how to use online discussion boards, email and web conferencing to facilitate online learning. As part of this iteration of the course, participants were introduced to the concept of online communities and shown how some worked, but were not actively able to participate in any; the primary online community was the classroom experience.

This model precluded informal participation by others who were not enrolled, and restricted interaction for these informal participants to the members of the formal class and vice versa. For a course about online communities, this was potentially a death knell because the social networking opportunities of the world wide web were off limits to the participants, and they were missing out on a rich and exciting experience. Therefore, in 2007, lecturers at Otago Polytechnic's Education Development Centre decided to re-develop the course to include wider ranging platforms where online facilitation skills could be used in more meaningful ways. For example, environments such as wikis, email groups, blogging networks, and a range of social networking sites and online communities including virtual worlds were included. When the lecturers started introducing this content, they started making the course materials and communication open access, believing experiential and immersive learning would be the most effective way to support learning about online facilitation. Eventually the course used entirely open platforms, and largely ignored LMS platforms, however, features, such as forums, that popular platforms had in common with Learning Management Systems were discussed.

In 2008, the course was fully open access, with the course schedule and content available on WikiEducator. The communication strategies used in the course occurred through the use of a course blog, a group email forum and regular live web conferencing sessions. Participants were exposed to a wide range of online communities and participated in them, for example, a collaborative barn building exercise was done on a wiki, participants took part in a tour of Second Life, and all participants were required to set up and maintain a blog for the duration of the course.

The facilitators promoted the course internationally, inviting open participation without the need to enroll in the course. Formal enrollment was explained as something people could do if they needed learning support, assessment and certification. The intention of opening course participation to more people was so the informal participants would help enrich the experiential and immersive learning experiences for the formal students, as well as potentially being able to recruit more formal enrollments. A total of 89 people from 19 countries participated in the first open course, seven times the average number of people in previous occurrences of the course. Nine people formally enrolled in the course at the beginning, so the facilitators administered the course by separating the participants into formal and informal groups. The nine formally enrolled participants were given priority learning support, including phone calls, email, and face-to-face contact if they were local as well as regular communication and feedback on blog posts. The 80 informal participants could join in group activities and web conference events, access content, recordings and transcripts, and submit assignments, but they did not receive priority learning support, assessment or certification. Many of the participants assisted with facilitation activities, providing valuable feedback on the blogs of the formally enrolled participants. Four informal participants requested Certificates of Attendance to help with possible later assessment via a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) service.

This model can be extended further so that international students can participate and seek RPL assessment after the course - thereby avoiding hefty up-front enrollment fees. Local students can also take advantage of the enrollment flexibility by not enrolling until they are confident of a pass, thereby avoiding transcript records showing non-completion. The traditional up-front enrollment remains an option for those who need intensive learning support, formative assessment, and quick certification. In the current climate of course funding and administration, the course does not run until the minimum number of people have enrolled up-front. When this process secures sufficient funds to contract a facilitator, then the course is made open access for others.

As long as the participants who enrol up-front appreciate the priority service they receive, and the increased numbers help improve the learning experience, there is no problem with using the open access model. This approach has also been extended to other courses offered by Otago Polytechnic, but it does require significant investment in facilitator training, and in making sure administrators and marketing personnel understand the model.

Open access learning edit

A model of open access learning has arisen to cater for the people who have requested activities and experiences which are immediately seen as relevant and can be applied in practical ways to the area of business. This change occurred following a meeting in October 2008, between the Otago Polytechnic School of Applied Business and stakeholders - business and community spokespeople and other interested people - who gathered to discuss the future of the School and its services. On that day, several ideas were explored in discussion leading to a change of emphasis for the School qualifications, so that potential students would find out upfront what they could learn, and how it could be applied in the real world of business. The following scenario outlines the stages of this open access model:

Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees to the back

If qualifications per se are to become less prominent in the learning experience, the norm regarding what it means to get a formal education has to be inverted. The “certificate, diploma and degree” aspect of education, has to be put to the back, and the content and learning activities brought to the front. This suggestion is in response to feedback from students who said they want to know what is actually in the course, what they will learn, how applied it is going to be, and the relevance for their career. When potential students are sent information about the available qualifications (certificates, diplomas and degrees) there is no clear indication given about these aspects of interest to students. Additionally, the formal structure of the qualifications limit educational development for learning which is authentic for the industry.

Hillary Jenkins, the programme manager for one of the qualifications, the Diploma in Applied Travel and Tourism, in the School of Applied Business – otherwise known as Travel and Tourism - is “inverting” the programme so it envelops a wide range of interests in learning. She has started with one of the courses: Planning for Small Business.

The planning for the change, began with finding out what else was going on in Dunedin, Otago, in terms of courses and support for people planning for setting up small businesses. A meeting with interest groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, NZ Trade and Enterprise, the local business incubator Kick Start, and a number of Polytechnic lecturers, community educators, and private training providers was held to assess the level of interest. The idea was received well because it would not be in competition, and was likely to be highly complimentary to existing services. The decision was made to develop a unique approach to planning for small business by including sustainable business models.

The course is based on a text book especially created for the course, and includes learning activities and assessment leading to the completion of a business plan. The course developers negotiated with NZ Trade and Enterprise to obtain copyrights to make a derivative of their already excellent business plan guide Planning for Success. This guide is a template for preparing a business plan, and has supporting information attached to it. Hillary and her team wanted to make a derivative from the guide, that would incorporate triple bottom line accounting as well as sustainability information. To compliment the textbook information, they host and record seminars and presentations, and run short workshops to assist people in preparing their business plans. The derivative text, developed on Wikibooks, is called Sustainable Business; and a calendar of events and workshops to compliment it is under development in Otago.

Enveloped learning

While the textbook provides the structure for the Planning for Small Business course, the calendar of events and workshops enables the participants to enter the real world real business. Practical sessions include seminars provided by the Inland Revenue Department on a variety of topics, for example, business registration and tax and levies. There are also presentations from different insurance brokers, presentations from local business people, workshops from local services, and other activities. A range of short, 30 minute to 1 hour events, with direct relevance to planning for a sustainable small business are open to the public and enrolled students alike. These short events link to slightly longer events, such as: a three hour workshop in spreadsheets; a 1/2 day tour of an existing business; a consultation period with a service; and a business plan writing workshop held over five evenings. Attendance at both the short and more involved events, can be credited towards the formal course in Planning for Small Business, and this option has the potential to attract wider interest in the course over all.


Imagine someone in the community who already has full time job, and is interested in developing a small business idea. When this person is given access to the short events, and the relevant parts of the textbook, they are not only getting the information and activity they need at the time, they are also contributing to the experience of other participants. When this type of open access approach is made available to members of the business community it becomes a marketing opportunity for the organisation running the open access course, e.g., Otago Polytechnic, and enhances the experience of formally enrolled participants. It is akin to the open lecture approach, except it is experiential, and the course participants are able to engage in activities alongside business owners. When enrolled students (which in Hillary’s course tends to be school leavers) attend informative events as part of the course learning activities, for example, Writing a Business Plan workshop, they are exposed to the perspectives of the wider public who are also attending. From the perspective of the course coordinator, open access attracts more diverse participation at a higher level of activity than would otherwise be possible. There is no commitment or enrollment to a certificate, diploma or degree required when participating in the open access events and activities, instead, short, one off, and regularly available workshops and seminars which are designed to assist people with an interest in small business are promoted.

Making our way to optional certificates, diplomas and degrees

The open access approach is designed to envelop many different levels of interest in the learning process, and optionally progresses people towards a credential if this is the pathway they choose. When people engage informally (non-enrolled) in the open access events and activities, if their attendance and completion of the workshops and events is recorded, this can be used at a later date by participants who either wish to apply for recognition of prior learning, or intend to enroll to be assessed. Therefore, upfront enrollment becomes unnecessary, and expectations of commitment to certificates, diplomas, degrees are eliminated along with commitment to full time or part time study, and timetables which are inflexible for participants.

Instead of focusing on the assessment and completion of qualifications, events and activities are coordinated to fit with the learning outcomes of the certificates, diplomas and degrees. This approach enables emphasis to be placed on curating the learning programme (similar to that of a film festival coordinator perhaps), and facilitating peoples' association and progress through that programme.

Who pays?

One of the concerns associated with open access learning relates to overheads, running costs and who pays for what. The formally enrolled participants pay fees as normal when they enroll in the course upfront and thus commit to all that is required. They receive their study allowance or loan, and start accumulating their study debt (or pay upfront). The programme receives the government subsidy for the enrolled students, who are provided with access to all the content, learning support and assessment services afforded to them normally. The people who take advantage of the open access option (informal enrollment) have access to scheduled events, and pay an admission fee to cover costs, if any, and are informed about how to access the online textbook, with an option to purchase the printed version. All events (where practical) whether short or long, are recorded and published for free online access and use. The online material created for the course is used to support face-to-face events and activities. Care is taken to ensure that formally enrolled participants have assured access to the events and activities, and that their enrollment fee is less than the total admission fees an informal participant would pay for all the events.


Hillary's team has developed an open access course, Planning for Small Business, to cater for the requests of people who want more applied, practical, and more immediately relevant learning activities. The content provided by an open textbook is separated slightly from the learning process, and is openly accessible and connected to ‘chunked’ learning activities. The learning sequence involves short events and longer workshops, within a curated programme of events. When people attend events they have the choice of engaging in short learning activities which can be accumulated for assessment and accreditation, or they can can commit to the assessment and certification process upfront and use the events and activities to achieve the learning outcomes. All resources are freely available online, but are also available as packaged resources, for a fee.

Pay it Forward Learning edit

The Pay it Forward Learning approach is based on a model for free learning proposed by staff at the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE in 2005. The proposal includes giving each a student a laptop and broadband connection, and offers discounted assessment which is based on participants' contributions to course development.

Application: A single mum, Ruby, makes herself known to an Outreach coordinator as someone wanting to train at home while looking after her baby. A curriculum is negotiated, and it is decided that she could complete competencies in word processing and Internet research, learning online from home. (Replace word processing and Internet research with the appropriate learning outcome.)
Issued laptop and network connection: Ruby is issued a laptop, complete with a range of open source software needed to complete her course. She is also given a broadband connection. The laptop and connection cost the Outreach center a total of $1000 per year. (Such a laptop is now available in the NZ market. It is the Asus Eee PC, available at Dicksmith for around NZ$599. Good broadband costs approximately $30 per month. Total of package = $929.)
Learn online through the wiki courses: Ruby has an option to attend face-to-face sessions to help her with digital information literacies, and to familiarise herself with the devices she will need to use to complete the online course. A range of competency-based courses are made available on a wiki, and maintained through international collaboration.
Course fees discounted: Each competency unit has an assignment that requires Ruby to develop a resource to teach someone new to the subject how to obtain that same competency. She also keeps notes about her learning, and loads each assignment to her web journal. When Ruby has finished a targeted number of assignments, she submits her web journal for assessment and recognition of prior learning (RPL).
Resources published: The RPL process is used to take note of the assignments, and any excellent examples are given to the course coordinator for consideration for inclusion in the course wiki. If Ruby's work is used in the course wiki, credit is given in the form of attribution and a discount for the course fees, and these are totalled at the end of the course.
Gap training: Any gaps in competencies are discussed with the coordinator, and the curriculum is re-negotiated, thus encouraging Ruby to repeat assignments, or attend face-to-face sessions to achieve the competencies.
Collaboration pays the way: When Ruby has successfully completed all competencies she is ready for qualification. Before obtaining her qualification she must pay her fees, including the cost of the laptop and connection (which she will own).

The final amount owed is determined by: (course costs + laptop and connection) – (assignments used in the course wiki) – (willingness to serve as a mentor to the next student learning online).

For example
Charges Discounts Total owing
Laptop and connection - $1000 Four assignments used as resources - $800
Course costs - $1000 20hrs mentoring - $400
Total charges - $2000 Total discounts - $1200 Total owing - $800

This particular student bought teaching and assessment services, a qualification and a laptop for $800, and this could be still further reduced if she created more resources and provided more mentoring.

Out from Under the Umbrellas edit

Another idea for open learning, coined as Out from Under the Umbrellas, is designed to increase the autonomy and online presence of teachers, so an organisation is recognised by the individuals within it rather than by the way the organisation operates. This means that less reliance is put on the qualifications to 'sell' an organisation, and more emphasis is put on the professional reputation of the teaching staff to market the institution.

You're on the teaching staff, so imagine if your institution allowed for more individualism. Your description of your work might be, "Otago Polytechnic works for me" rather than "I work for Otago Polytechnic". How good would it be to work in a place where the brand, the infrastructure, the management, the hierarchy, and the assets are in some way answerable or subsumed to the individuals within the organisation (Blackall, 2006).

One way may be for individual teachers to come out from under the umbrella of the organisation, and be supported to develop their individualism, is if they are expected to establish and maintain an online and global presence. Their professional portfolios are always up to date – up to the second, with the work they are doing, their research, their ideas and thinking, their experiments, their teaching, and their communications with professional networks. A blog connected to a number of social networking sites (e.g., wikis, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Delicious, Youtube, Linked In, etc.) is one way to maintain a professional portfolio. Plus there are various web-based portfolio platforms which can serve the purpose. The organisation potentially benefits from a more flexible, individually responsible, diverse work force, and representatives which can 'market' their work globally. The important point is that the organisation becomes far less centralised and less identifiable as the organisation, and is more clearly identified by the individuals within (Blackall, 2006). This has the potential to attract students who wish to study at the institution. Additionally, more flexible options for learning and gaining qualifications are required if an organisation is to survive in the global economy.

The statement made by Stephen Downes, in a conversation with TANZ (Tertiary Accord of New Zealand) chief executives on 21 September 2006, emphasizes the reliance on qualifications in current educational models: “When the processes of formal training and assessment separate, institutionalised learning will be in crisis.”

The crisis has already begun in the tertiary sector with educational organisations offering a wide variety of both viable and nonviable programmes, and no longer enjoying exclusivity, or an abundance of government subsidies for students. Otago Polytechnic has a centre for assessing prior learning, Capable NZ, which was set up to provide fast-track qualifications where previous life experience is acknowledged. The RPL process for certification and training offers an opportunity for decentralisation, and the introduction of competition to what has previously been a public investment in qualification-rich education. Educational institutions and their faculties have recognised the need to provide more flexible ways of offering qualifications. The use of open education resources and social media is one way to provide flexible avenues for learning.

Scenario for change A scenario is presented to help explain the current dilemma facing industry and tertiary organisations who provide training - inflexibility with the way qualifications are structured, and funding challenges.

Builders in New Zealand, in the interests of quality assurance, will soon be required to have certification, however, there is a shortage of builders in many areas of NZ. Therefore, it may not be feasible, for one reason or another, for people already engaged in the building industry to leave their jobs and engage in long-term or even short-term study. One way to fast track certification, and to ensure a critical mass of builders continues to be available, is for training organisations and building associations to set up Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and flexible training opportunities. If done well, the RPL process can be a fast track, cheaper option for certification.

Educational organisations can choose to offer RPL assessment for multiple industry sectors, or focus on specific, just-in-time training which is flexible and situated in the workplace. Therefore, more options are made available for people requiring certification and/or further training. It is likely that stakeholders may welcome shorter and/or more flexible training and certification opportunities, and assessment that is customised to their needs. This is potentially beneficial for educational providers, especially if secondary schools align their curricula with the tertiary sector, because seamless study opportunities between school and the workplace then become available, and funding designated to support this approach is used to bolster the finances of organisations struggling in the present financial climate. The philosophy underpinning open education resources supports such flexibility because development of resources is done collaboratively, and they are shared and distributed openly.

What would it be like to be the rain edit

Heavy rains in Mumbai. Photo by Hitesh Ashar, India

If educational institutions are to come 'out from under the umbrellas' and decentralise, formal teaching and learning, assessment and accreditation requires change, and the way in which this might occur is described here.

If teachers have a strong Internet presence, they can enter into open discourse about their subjects, model effective practice, and lead networked learning by example. If they share their knowledge and ideas, and actively seek assistance with what they don’t know and understand, and can do this with the backing of their institution, they can enter into more creative teaching environments. For example: people all around the world are using the worlds biggest and most successful training provider (Google + Wikipedia + Youtube) to find information, and to communicate around what they're wanting and needing to learn. With a strong and established Internet presence, the brave new teachers are easily found, and have the opportunity to contribute to this type of open and informal learning. Once teachers reach this point it is possible to start to think about ways to match this informal learning with institutionalised education and assessment.

Start by looking at how Ask A Ninja (2006) explains podcasting.

In the Youtube video, Ninja describes the world of people who seek ideas, entertainment, information and distraction online. These people wander the landscape of search engine results, random hyperlinks and web posts, that is, they engage in surfing the net. While doing this surfing, they may find content which captures their attention, and is relevant to what they want to learn. The challenge for networking teachers is how to develop a web presence in such a way that people when surfing will find the teachers' content, and want to come back, subscribe, or otherwise tune in.

An example of a teacher using open resources

A person exploring an interest in architecture, for instance, may discover something which a teacher of an architectural subject has uploaded to the Internet - a quick video demonstrating how to measure a house, and use Google Sketch Up to draw plans for house renovation. The person finds and watches the video, and as a result is interested to find out more about the subject. If the teacher describes how the material relates to formal training and assessment, and links to other resources, as well as providing advice on what the next steps in the process might be, this can draw potential students not only to the teacher but also to the organisation.

It is advisable if open educational resources are bite-sized chunks of information that are linked to similar material. For example, video demonstrations, short audio recorded interviews (5 – 10 minutes) with practitioners from New Zealand and around the world, a well designed online text (with the option for a print copy) which inspires people to think differently about the subject, or recordings of short 10 – 15 minute presentations. The work of Salman Khan and the Kahn Academy is inspiring. He is one of many individuals around the world already taking the OER approach to teaching. Once people find teachers through their strong online presence, they may choose to follow the conversations and learning which the teachers are facilitating, and start to relate to the students' experiences. The absence of an enrollment fee, password and login profile to block their access, enables people to see that becoming a qualified architect, for example, is a possibility for them, perhaps achievable in their spare time after work. If some of these people make contact with the teacher, and they are invited to share information about themselves and enter into a conversation about the subject, they may become interested in participating. The teacher may invite them to join a web conference to find out more about the subject, and to meet others.

In this model, the teacher has to manage quite a bit of online social activity around their subject area, but if the time is spent treating people as individuals, respectful of each individual's capacity and time frame, a relationship can be nurtured to help people with their interests. Thus teachers facilitate as equals, as participants in their own courses, and as participants in a network.

To review, if individual teachers have strong, networked, Internet presence built on the basis of open educational content, which is published on popular social media sites, potential students are drawn into this world of information and communication. Their focus on a particular element of content may lead them to other networked content. At any point, opportunities to communicate around the material are available. Therefore, when the communication starts, so does the relationship between the teacher and the informal learner, and there is an opportunity for prolonging engagement in the educational experience.

But who pays?

Informal learning is free! However, some participants may choose to pay because they seek accreditation - some may want recognition for their work, or others may legally require it to do further work. A fee may be paid by the participant, or the employer, or by the government or via a scholarship. When the time for accreditation is agreed on (in other words when the teacher and the student agree they are both ready), the student enrolls and pays a fee, and the student is assessed. Prior to that, the student has engaged in the subject as an informal participant. The assessment can be negotiated to include a range of activities in which the student may have already participated, e.g., assignments, communications, readings, portfolio, work experience, projects, interviews, etc. It is at the point when assessment is agreed on that payment is made. The learning was free, but the student incurs assessment and accreditation costs. This model encourages 100% completion and pass rates, with fewer enrollees who "fail", "drop out", or "do not complete".

Could we make NZ education free? edit

To see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time. Visit the 'free hugs' set here.

In 2010, total student debt in New Zealand is over $11 billion and counting (NZUSA, 2010). In the rest of the world, masses of people cannot afford an education (Wikipedia, 2010).

Tertiary education in New Zealand is publicly funded through a system known as Equivalent Full Time Student (EFTS). Basically, the government gives money to a course on a per student basis, with the amount determined by the credits or points value of the course, how many learning hours there are, and what the equivalent is in full-time weeks. Different institutions add a fee on top of the EFTS funding for each student to cover over all operating costs not covered by the subsidy. The following scenario provides some costings and an argument for providing free informal learning.

A programme or qualification with one full EFTS is worth approximately NZ$7000. One course with an EFTS value of 0.04 EFTS is run over 10 weeks at five hours per week. The government funding available for one student is 0.04 of $7000 = $280. A facilitator is required to commit five hours per week to run the course.

  • How many students are needed to run a course on EFTS funding only?
  • How much does it cost to run the course?
Item Notes Costs
Facilitator 50 hours at $50 per hour $2500
Marketing and administration promotion, printing material, and administrative assistance $1000
Learning support services Community Learning Centres (unsure of costs), student support services (costing shows levy), and library services (unsure of costs) $500
Total Cost of running the course $4000

Assuming the course can be supported by the EFTS funding only (without the need to charge students a fee), a minimum of 15 formally enrolled EFTS-funded students are required to cover the costs of running the course, as estimated. Therefore, the course is effectively free to 15 students. As a result of the government funding, $267 is paid to the institution for each New Zealand resident that enrolls in the course. Currently, there is a cap on the number of EFTS students allowed into courses.

Now how do we make it free for everyone?

If 15 people are government funded and do not have to pay a fee, it is unlikely they will mind if other people do the course for free. Theoretically, 20, 30, or 100 people can be accepted into the course if it can run for the estimated cost of $4000, and the learning outcomes and quality of the course are not adversely affected. Once 15 New Zealand residents are enrolled, the course can start and be open to others - from anywhere, for free. The 15 New Zealand residents have the opportunity to be educated along with 20, 30, or 100 other international and local people, thus engaging in a richer learning experience. New Zealand education can therefore be used to promote future investment, migration or other international exchanges. This model can work, as long as the 15 New Zealand resident students are not compromised by the additional students, and their learning outcomes are enhanced. Costs for running a course naturally vary between organisations, therefore the model which is presented, is an estimate only.

References edit

Ask A Ninja (2006). Special Delivery 1 What is Podcasting? Retrieved from

Blackall, L. (2006). Out from under the umbrellas. Retrieved from

Khan, S. (2010). Retrieved from

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA). (2010). Retrieved from

Parker, S. (2007). The importance of activity sheets (The glue that binds the network?) Retrieved from

Wikipedia (2010). Retrieved from

Wiley, D. (2001). Reusability Paradox. Originally written and hosted for the Utah State University. Retrieved, September 2005, via the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine, from