August 28, 2014

How to make an omellette without breaking eggs: innovation and open-ness in university teaching

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The EFQUEL forum in Granada, Spain

It has been impossible for me to blog about online learning over the last four weeks because I have been on holiday for most of the time, in places deliberately chosen because there were no Internet connections.

The EFQUEL Innovation Forum

However, the first week away was spent at a very interesting forum organized by the European Foundation for Quality in e-Learning (EFQUEL). The focus was in the interface between open learning and innovation in post-secondary education. There were about 120 participants from all round Europe, including Russia and Serbia, as well as the usual suspects from the UK, Spain, Finland, Germany, Italy and Belgium.

One of the goals of the conference was to enable EFQUEL to identify its priorities over the next 12 months, in a context where most European governments are grappling with austerity and the resulting financial pressures on universities. Online learning of course is being heavily promoted by governments as a means of increasing productivity through innovation, and the bulk of the participants were anxious to ensure that the issue of maintaining or increasing the quality of the educational experience through online learning received as much attention as the technology and cost issues. In particular, papers and keynotes concentrated on the relationship between open educational resources, innovation, and quality.

Somewhat to my own surprise, I found myself in my opening keynote arguing the case for sustaining innovation rather than disruptive innovation for universities, because I want the core values of universities (knowledge preservation and creation; rationality; evidence-based research) to be maintained, while improving quality and cost-effectiveness. Thus the trick is to bring about the necessary changes without destroying the very benefits that make universities so important to our society. Thus my talk was titled: ‘How to make an omellette without breaking eggs.’ In fact, some eggs will get broken, but the egg will still be there in the omelette.

I argued that for innovation to succeed in universities, it needed to be supported and to some extent managed, and I discussed several strategies for supporting innovation in teaching and learning. A copy of my slides can be downloaded from Dropbox. You will need to request this by sending me an e-mail to: tony.bates@ubc.ca. Please ask for my EFQUEL presentation.

The conference provided a pretty good overview of the European context regarding approaches to open educational resources (full copies of the paper presentations can be accessed here.) The challenge in Europe as elsewhere is to find ways to integrate and build on OERs, but the focus still tends to be too much on just making materials open without any thought of how they can best be used. However, the forum provided a good way to bring players from all across Europe together to share ideas and to promote better quality in e-learning through the use of open content and approaches.

 

Comments

  1. I know that issues are rarely “either or”, but what if you were faced with the prospect of universities refusing to innovate, or more likely, innovating too slowly. Might the idea of a completely new system not be more attractive then (if that was the choice)? Although such a choice is too simple to be likely, it may be that a lot more eggs need to be broken than we might imagine. If that results in a much smaller number of institutions that are creating new knowledge and an improvement in how people acquire that knowledge through other methods, perhaps it will be for the best.

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