Developing 21st century skills through colearning with OER and social networks

Okada, Alexandra; Rabello, Cíntia and Ferreira, Giselle (2014). Developing 21st century skills through colearning with OER and social networks. In: Challenges for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better – Doing Better Things, European Distance and E-Learning Network, pp. 121–130.


In little over a decade, Open Educational Resources (OER) have opened up access to knowledge through hundreds of projects and open content repositories, open practices and, more recently, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC). However, OER lie at the heart of the Open Education movement, which advocates that communities and individuals should have access not only to repositories, but also to open technologies and methodologies. Since 2006, innovative OER initiatives such as OpenLearn (McAndrew et al., 2009) have been providing both open content and knowledge media environments (e.g. LabSpace by OpenLearn) for users to create their own open resources, courses and practices. Currently, it is possible to observe that an increasing number of open learning projects has been moving beyond the provision of repositories to offer social personalised platforms for collaborative open knowledge construction. These initiatives (e.g. OpenScout, 2010; weSPOT, 2013) offer opportunities for users to organise their social networks and co-create resources, courses, methodologies, inquiries and best practices.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the potential of online collaborative learning to support the development of 21st century skills. It draws upon an on-going virtual ethnography that aims to investigate colearning – collaborative open learning – with Open Educational Resources (OER) and social networks. The research focuses on COLEARN, an open research network constituted by communities of educators, students and researchers who have been participating in various OER projects, including OpenLearn (2006-2009) (Lane, 2012), OpenScout (2010-2012) (Okada, 2014) and weSPOT(2013-2015) (Mikroyannidis et al., 2012). A large data set that has been collected in the course of activities revolving around the creation of the book Open Educational Resources and Social Networks (Okada, 2013) is currently being treated. This project has been conducted for over four years and includes a variety of open digital data from multifaceted social settings in different platforms used during the coauthoring process of three editions of the book.

The process has involved 113 educators, students and researchers from thirty research groups in 21 different universities and 5 countries, who co-authored, initially, 30 chapters that draw upon their mainstream research. Each chapter was specifically designed to make it more reusable and understandable for a broader target audience. Amongst the activities develop ed, 7 open web conferences were organised with research groups responsible for each chapter, who discussed their work with readers on Facebook and FM webconference application. COLEARN’s fieldwork includes both quantitative and qualitative sources. Thus, a variety of open digital data were co-produced from multifaceted social settings in different project platforms, such as digital productions, discussion forums, wikipage reflections, videoclips about the process, web-videoconferences, virtual focus groups, social media comments, social network dialogue and online surveys.

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