UM to Collaborate with Pioneering Open Education Consortium

University becomes first institution to offer traditional graduate course with open components

OXFORD, Miss. – This spring, the University of Mississippi will become the first university to offer traditional graduate course with open elements through online collaborations with two cutting-edge groups, opening up new avenues to provide free education opportunities on the meaning, application and impact of “openness” in the digital world.

The two collaborations are with Peer2Peer University’s School of Open, which uses volunteers to develop and run online courses, offline workshops and in-person training programs, and Open Educational Resources University’s WikiEducator platform. OER University, or OERu, is an international consortium of universities working to create affordable pathways to formal university credit using open educational resources.

The new graduate-level course, “Topics in Higher Education – Open Educational Resources and Practices” (EDHE 670) will be taught by Robert Cummings, director of the UM Center for Writing and Rhetoric and associate professor of English. Cummings will lead UM students with learners from around the world in a two-week module covering open educational resources, or OER, in collaboration with OERu; and a six-week module in which students will learn to collaborate on Wikipedia articles, in association with the School of Open.

“University of Mississippi graduate students in the School of Education will prepare for their careers with this unique opportunity to engage the emerging global field of open educational resources,” Cummings said. “UM students will not only learn about OER, its origins and its role in the classrooms of the future, but they will have the opportunity to work with developers and theorists – both as fellow students and emerging practitioners – in a synchronous, global classroom of enrolled students and unenrolled learners.”

The course will build on Cummings’ research into the educational and cost-saving benefits available through the use of OER and commons-based peer production, such as the use of Wikipedia to teach writing. In the course, UM students will have an opportunity to participate in open educational practices while simultaneously learning the theory and history behind them.

Open educational practices have offered unprecedented learning opportunities in recent years, both inside and outside of traditional learning institutions. For instance:

  • A Brooklyn College student in the Wikipedia Education Program restructured and improved a Wikipedia article on costume design, receiving feedback and guidance from peers around the world and from instructor Amy Hughes while simultaneously improving a learning resource available to the general public.
  • Adrianne Wadewitz, a writing instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and longtime Wikipedia contributor, has assigned her students to copy edit and improve Wikipedia articles, allowing them to learn about the importance – and the sometimes unexpectedly political nature – of nuance in writing.
  • Dr. Lisa Gualtieri guides her students at the Tufts University School of Medicine in engaging effectively online, motivated by the concern that online information and interactive mobile applications relevant to her field often are not informed by academic expertise.

Through partnerships with the global organizations OERu and School of Open, two modules of EDHE 670, constituting about half the course – “Open Content Licensing for Educators” and “Writing Wikipedia Articles (WIKISOO)” – will be free and open to the general public.

“Open education signals a return to the core values of the academy, namely, to share knowledge freely,” said OERu founder Wayne Mackintosh, who teaches the “Open Content Licensing for Educators” module. “Working together, we achieve far more than working alone. This course is an exemplar of open collaboration widening learning opportunities for all.”

The ability to engage and collaborate across geographical borders, through ongoing online projects such as Wikipedia, presents opportunities that didn’t exist a few years ago.

“In its 12-year history, Wikipedia has enabled hundreds of thousands of people around the world to collaborate in developing a widely used educational resource,” said Pete Forsyth of WikiStrategies, who teaches the Wikipedia component of the course. “Wikipedia is important not merely as a publication, but also as a vibrant learning community, and as a collection of highly effective collaborative processes. Wikipedia offers many valuable case studies in effective online collaboration, both in connection with and independent of formal academic study.”

The School of Open offers courses on topics such as Creative Commons licenses, open educational resources and sharing creative works, all coordinated by Creative Commons and Peer 2 Peer University.

The OER university consortium was launched recently by its 31 member universities at the Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia.