Being “Open” Minded at the 2011 Open Education Conference

Welcome SignLast week, several Saylor Foundation staff members had the opportunity to travel to Park City, Utah for the 8th annual Open Education Conference. It was the first time we’d attended the event, and we were blown away by the presentations and all the friendly faces. Not only were the keynote addresses – given by Martha Kanter, Jim Shelton, Josh Jarrett, Jim Groom, Cable Green and Philipp Schmidt – extremely inspiring and chock full of information, but each presentation we attended generated great amounts of discussion that seemed to give each attendee answers and ideas on how to increase the quality, accessibility, and utilization of open education.

Several attendees have blogged about the event (Geoff Cain, Ruth Suehle for OpenSource.com, and the folks at Open Michigan, to name a few) and our friends over at Education-Portal.com interviewed several attendees and will be posting these interviews in the coming weeks. To avoid redundancy of these blog posts, I’ll simply mention the major themes I took away from the event and how some of these conversations fit in with the future of Saylor.org.

Theme #1: Open Textbooks
There were several sessions centered on the creation of open textbooks, including presentations from the Utah State Office of Education, Nicole Allen of Student PIRGs, Eric Frank of Flat World Knowledge, and others. Coming off of the first phase of our Open Textbook Challenge, we were extremely excited to hear about so many projects in the works to make more textbooks open and cheaply or freely available.

Theme #2: Building Community in Open Spaces
An area that seems to be a hurdle for organizations utilizing OER outside of an educational institution is how to create communities where self-directed learners can congregate and work together to further their learning. One particularly neat application that can help organizations leap over this obstacle is OpenStudy. Preetha Ram of Emory University, and co-founder of OpenStudy, gave her presentation attendees a walkthrough of the site, which allows users to pose questions, give advice, and earn recognition for their efforts.

Theme #3: OER in the K-12 environment
While Saylor.org is currently focusing efforts in building content at the higher ed level, we plan to eventually expand our focus to include other levels of learning in the future. Several presentations focused specifically on the K-12 environment. We learned a great deal from DeLaina Tonks of Open High School of Utah and Christina, Jay, and Tami of the Georgia Virtual High School in their respective presentations. It’s so exciting to see how education is being made more accessible at all levels!

Theme #4: Recognition of Open Education
And finally, the million-dollar question: How can users show that they’ve learned something using OER? Lucky for us, several Open Education enthusiasts are working to provide answers to that question through badges and accreditation. Open Michigan  spoke about how they are working to implement badges for users of their materials and Carla Casilli, the Project Manager of Open Badges at the Mozilla Foundation, spoke candidly about the upcoming beta launch of Mozilla Badges. Rory McGreal of Athabasca University gave an update on OER University, a program set in place to work with accredited institutions around the globe to give college credit for knowledge gained through open resources. Through these discussions, it became very clear that, in the near future, efforts of learning via OER will not go unnoticed.

Of course, there were heaps of other takeaways from the event, but these four subjects really stuck with me after leaving Park City. Each of the four Saylor staff members that were able to attend the conference returned home with a noggin full of new information and ideas to help propel the Saylor Foundation in its mission to harness technology to make education more accessible to all.

For those who were unable to attend the event, each presentation was videotaped and documented, and is now available on the Conference’s YouTube site. You can also head over to Twitter and check out the #opened11 hashtag, which documents discussion throughout the event, or check out the photos we snapped at the event – now posted on our Facebook page.

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