Posted on June 9, 2010 · Posted in Siyavula

We have just finished helping the HOD Science at Bishops Diocesan College, Keith Warne, put all of his 200+ powerpoint presentations for the teaching of Grade 8-12 Science online. They are all freely available to view, use, download and modify! Here I have embedded his most popular one (over 120 views in 2 weeks) as an example:

Why do this, well ….

We find that many educators are willing to share content. I think that a willingness to share is a fundamental part of being a good teacher, isn’t that what teaching is actually all about. At the risk of getting somewhat distracted, I would even say that being a good teacher is about much more than just sharing knowledge/information but also in sharing in the identification, development and achievement of potential and dreams (Woah – it’s early!).

However, when faced with the prospect of sharing online they feel a little overwhelmed. There are a few obvious contributing factors some of which we can address and which I’ll list here:

  • they don’t find a critical mass of content they can use online so their expectations about what is good enough to share haven’t been normalised;
  • they don’t know the “best” place to share because they’ve not found much useful stuff and the internet is big;
  • they seem to feel obliged to share everything, especially when they don’t see a critical mass of content in their subject area online; and
  • they have too much stuff to share and its not well organised.

These are all legitimate concerns but the very size and nature of the internet and how people can collaborate online addresses them all:

  • they don’t find a critical mass of content they can use online so their expectations about what is good enough to share haven’t been normalised; Nobody is forced to consume your content, allow them to decide if it is good enough or useful for them
  • they don’t know the “best” place to share because they’ve not found much useful stuff and the internet is big; There is no best place to share it, so long as it is open, discoverable and has reasonable meta-data the internet search tools will find it and people will be able to use it
  • they seem to feel obliged to share everything, especially when they don’t see a critical mass of content in their subject area online; The internet and many sites are some one of the best demonstrations of the “whole being greater than the sum of the parts”, look at Wikipeda and watch Clay Shirky’s Web2.0 Expo talk (transcript here if you don’t want to download a video) – I highly recommend it! and
  • they have too much stuff to share and its not well organised. Start small because sharing content online will help get it organised, backed up and reviewed!

For Siyavula we really want to help get active participation going, not just consumption of content we’ve uploaded, and we’ve discovered a few things already:

  • the content we’ve uploaded to Connexions does get viewed a lot;
  • we really do receive feedback, testimonials and questions; and
  • if content is uploaded in the authors’ name they will maintain it.

So, with the help of Upfront Systems, we decided to support some teachers sharing their content under the condition that:

  • the content is uploaded to whichever of the following is most appropriate:
  • the content is licensed openly, and
  • the content is uploaded under an account in their name.

This ensures that we slowly move towards critical mass in a few places, the content can be remixed and that feedback, questions and testimonials goes to the original author who is best equipped to respond. The last point is very important to me, if we want teachers to start connecting online then we must ensure that they can do so without going through any intermediaries. This point is driven home every time I receive feedback or a question on one of the Siyavula modules uploaded to Connexions because I am not the person best equipped to respond to a content/curriculum query and we have missed an opportunity to connect two educators.

A very quick note, there is no review process or special selection regarding who we work with, we started with Keith Warne because he gave up a day of his time to come to a workshop we ran and happened to have all his content with him on a memory stick and gave it to us. We seized the opportunity. There is more content from other teachers and other schools on the way and if you want would like some help getting your content online just let me know.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.