BY MATT MCGREGOR

This post introduces some ideas for the 2016 OER Sprints. If you want to get involved, you can:

* join our organising group (on a platform called Loomio)
* fill out the expression of interest form
* check out the existing task-list for the events

Let’s Sprint!

Earlier this week, we announced our plans to organise the Great 2016 Open Educational Resource Sprints.

As I said in my post last week, we’re getting a critical mass of schools with Creative Commons policies, which are enabling teachers to legally share and collaborate. This is good news, of course, but the risk is that the policy becomes just a piece of paper, to which no one really pays all that much attention.

It’s our opinion at CCANZ that it’s about time we put these policies into practice, and show how kiwi teachers can work together to make new, open resources.

Hence, the Sprints. But when you announce a new idea like an OER Sprint, you quickly find people asking a few quite important questions.

What’s a Sprint, Anyway?

Let’s begin with the first one. What’s a sprint?

A resource sprint is an idea borrowed from the technology sector, where it is sometimes called a ‘hack.’ The ‘GovHack’ weekends are one example of technologists, designers and a range of other volunteers coming together to make new products and services from open government data and information.

In the education sector, one of the big examples that inspired us was the Media Text Hack (there’s that word again), where a team of educators and researchers got together to write an open Media Studies textbook. It’s now an assigned undergraduate textbook at the University of Otago.

The other example – which itself inspired the Media Text Hack team – was the Oppikirjamaraton (that’s Finnish for ‘textbook marathon). This event involved about thirty Finnish mathematics educators writing a new textbook for schools.

Both of these events give us working models of how an OER Sprint might work. Both organising teams have also been open about the problems they had during the event (such as technology – surprise, surprise) and what they would do differently.

Decisions, Decisions

Despite these fantastic examples, there’s still a heap of details about the event that we need to figure out. We’ve decided to open up the process early, so everyone can see how our decisions are being made. Hopefully, at the end, we have a model that schools, associations and informal groups of teachers can use to sprint – or hack – their way to the resources they need.

So, what do we need to think about? I’ll be reflecting on these issues over the next few months – both here at NZCommons and in our open Loomio group, with other volunteer organisers. But here’s a few to get us started.

  • How long should it last for? Some sprints last for two days, others just one. Some sprints keep strict, family-friendly time-frames, while others keep working deep into the night. My feeling is that we ought to keep it short and sweet – i.e a busy 9/10-5 – for either one or two days, though with an expectation than many participants won’t be able to commit for the full period.
  • Technology – the bane of many such events. We’ll need to find a technical platform that works for everyone. My initial thinking is that Google Docs will work fine for small teams, and is a technology many teachers already use. Some bigger projects with many more collaborators  have had issues with using Google Docs, and more technical platforms – like Github – have also been problematic.
  • Participants, volunteers and facilitators. What skills do we need? And what’s the best mix of practising teachers, non-teaching subject-area experts (like academics), facilitators and other volunteers? My feeling is that we need to keep the focus of the event as ‘by teachers, for teachers’, with other volunteers serving to support the needs of the participants teachers. At the same time, we want to take advantage of the collective expertise of everyone who wants to help out.
  • What’s a ‘resource’? Other sprints have focused on making single book (or book-like entity). My feeling is that a ‘resource’ is whatever the heck participants decide to make on the day, and that this should be the decision of each individual team.
  • Team formation: what constitutes a team? How many people? 3-6 seems about right, though I’m not sure about this.
  • What about virtual participation? If we’re working on Google docs, this is fine – though virtual collaboration can breed those dreaded Technological Problems, which we’ll want to avoid. But we shouldn’t put any barriers on people participating, either.
  • What will the events actually look like? My assumption is that it will involve people sitting at tables, talking and typing. We should try to minimise the amount of scene-setting at the beginning, and look to have a plethora of helpers to solve problems as they arise. This will involve giving clear guidance beforehand. A minor amount of faffing about at the beginning is probably unavoidable.
  • How much does it cost? From our point of view, there are two sorts of costs: event costs; and outreach costs, before and after the event. For the event, we’ll need funding or in-kind sponsorship to cover food, drink, venue, technology and other incidental costs. For the outreach, we’ll need funding to get resources on CC and OER to as many teachers as possible.
  • Finally, how many events? We’re not sure, yet, though before the end of the year, we should make some initial committments. I’m obviously keen to have them anywhere and everywhere, though this will depend on us getting strong local support.

One last plug: if you want to help answer these questions, join our Loomio!

Cover image: “Typists” by George Eastman House. Via Flickr. No known copyright restrictions.

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