Proud Spammer of Open University Courses

There has been a bit of excitement about the possibilities for pushing the uses of RSS towards a mythical eduglu as of late. Brian posted about it here and got some great feedback, soon after D’Arcy Norman and Bill Fitzgerald ramped up their work with Drupal. Then there was David’ Wileys re-publishing of his course on WordPress.com, and Brian (again) frames the implications beautifully, and then Stephen Downes uses this example to point towards Tony Hirst’s Disaggregation of MIT OCW. In short, an amazing distributed thread to follow.

So while I was looking at Tony Hirst’s work with MIT’s Open CourseWare, he must have have been leaving a comment pointing to a series of feeds on the Open Learn OER site. Additionally, he suggested that there isn’t any reason why these feeds couldn’t be pulled into a blog rather neatly. And you know what, he couldn’t have been more right!

I gave it a shot on a WordPress Multi-User installation I keep around for just these sorts of things. I pulled the Open University courses feeds into individual blogs using Wp-o-Matic</a, a tried and true spamblogging plugin. And I am pretty excited by the results. (As an aside, I find great pleasure in re-purposing the wicked tools of spammers to make re-publishing open educational resources that much easier.)

The first course from the OpenLearn site I republished was titled Goya. I chose this one for two reasons: a) I wanted to learn more about Goya, and b) it had a number of images and videos associated with it and I wanted to see how they would work. As a result, I now know more about Goya & the images and videos pulled into the site beautifully, very impressive XML! The first time I pulled this course the Introduction and background posts balked, this didn’t happen the second time I tested it however.

Image of th Goya Course in a WordPress Blog
Compare the re-published blog site above (click on the image to see it) with the original course in the OpenLearn OER here.

Moreover, each of the course sections was in the proper logical order, meaning that the topmost post on the blog was the introduction, next the background, etc. This fortunate happenstance made reproducing the course outline on the sidebar of the blog simple. I just included the recent posts widget and re-titled it Unit Outline. After that, I had an entire course republished in my WPMu account within minutes.

As for the other two courses I tested (Hume and Word and image), they work perfectly save for a few stray a tags on the Word and image site. Compare the original Hume course on the OpenLearn site with the re-published blog site here. Do the same for the original Word and image course and the republished one here.

This was a pretty amazing experiment for me because it goes to suggest how much I get from reading blogs on a daily basis. Ideas happen in a series of relations, and I so thoroughly enjoy taking other people’s genius and testing it out. When I saw the Goya class get pulled in successfully with all of about five minutes work, I started to realize just how powerful these open resources can be once they are freed from their repositories. What is stopping K-12s and universities from setting up WPMu installations (or Drupal, or what have you) and pulling these amazing resources in? Or even pushing them out themselves? Another question that needs to be asked is how many of the other open resources out there have the stellar RSS feeds these OpenLearn OERs do?

I can’t answer these questions, but I will venture a hunch about the first two I asked: once teachers and students begin to realize the unparalled ease and immense utility they get from having instant access to re-purposed open educational resources, it may very well have a deep impact on current habits of publishing all their hard-earned work within a blackbox.

As an afterthought, I tried this same experiment in WordPress.com, but unfortunately that service only allows you to import specific RSS feeds from toerh services like Moveable Type, Blogger, etc. So, in the end, a spammer shall lead the way )

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4 Responses to Proud Spammer of Open University Courses

  1. Tony Hirst says:

    Hi Jim -

    Great stuff on republishing the OpenLearn materials in a blog. Do you have a feeling for how easy it would be to automate the process and republish all the OpenLearn courses? Also – should each course have its own blog, category, or tag?

    I guess now we can start thinking properly about what a blog environment typically affords compared to something like Moodle/blackboard, or a wiki.

    (The library folks are faced with a similar situation too – e.g. WPopac – a library catologue delivered via wordpress: http://maisonbisson.com/blog/post/11133 )

    One thing for me is the need to support ‘serialised’ RSS feeds, so a user can subscribe at any time and then get 1 post per day, or according to whatever schedule they want (e.g. http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/010489.html or http://www.dailylit.com/ ; feedlearner.com offers a daily feed fro Openlearn courses via a Yahoo Pipe mashup)

    One thing I like about the ‘just do it’ approach is that it makes evident the sorts of issues that need to be addressed in a practical way that are all too easily the subject of never-ending ‘should we do this or that’ conversations that don’t ever get resolved. Adding just a single OpenLearn movie to Youtube ( http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/009148.html ) raised all sorts of questions about what rights and description info we needed to make easily available so people could just grab it and reuse it….

    …same with importing the feeds into a blog; with just a little bit of clear thinking, the OpenLearn team could probably tweak the original feed generating template so that a rights statement appears in an appropriate (and non-threatening) way in the feed.

    Anyway – great stuff; if our paths ever cross, the first round’s on me:-)

    PS you have an anchor tag typo in your post…

  2. Tony Hirst says:

    PS the next step is a slightly trickier one – how do we do something similar with OER OPML feeds, like the MIT one, or these Yale ones ( http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/012487.html )?

    How do those OPML feeds need tidying/processing to make them palatable via blog?

    And how do we persuade the OER funders that letting people get away with publishing PDFs shouldn’t really count, unless they provide a web native embeddable viewer (Flash is ok, I guess…) cf. services like scribd?

  3. 5tein says:

    Write us a step-by-step!

  4. JIm says:

    Wow, I have to catch up on comments, Tony, I am going to respond in earnest to you shiortly, but I have to put together at least a couple of hours to do so and make progress :0 As for the step-by-step, that will hopefully be part of the regrouping. What a great weekend of stuff, and I can;t thank you enough, Tony, for pushing me to experiment.

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