Making Collaboration Easier

Making Collaboration Easier

I first heard about “open source learning” in 2006 from a TED talk by Rich Baraniuk, a computer science professor from Rice University. Rich is also the founder of Connexions,  a global clearinghouse of open-source course materials. People in some 200 countries tap into its vast store of texts on everything from signal processing to music theory, adapting the content as they see fit.

Richard Baraniuk’s Ted Talk on open-source learning.

Rich is a charismatic speaker and his talk motivated me  to learn more about the potential of OER for foreign language education. So, I visited the Connexions website. And I downloaded several articles on Open Education.

One article by Rich (Challenges and opportunities for the open education movement: A Connexions case study) in particular captured my imagination because it described Open Education as a  grassroots movement among like-minded educators:

The Open Education (OE) movement is based on a set of intuitions shared by a remarkably wide range of academics: that knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit and kudos for contributing to education and research; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways and not the simple linear forms that today’s textbook present. OE promises to fundamentally change the way authors, instructors, and students interact worldwide. (Baraniuk, 2007, p. 229)

Rich’s belief that collaboration should be easier really struck a chord with me. I truly enjoy collaborating with students and colleagues on pedagogical projects. In fact, I have been involved in several such projects throughout my career. But I am often dismayed by how our own professional practices and institutions are impediments to collaboration. I have also discovered that collaboration will not work if the conditions aren’t right for everyone involved. In other words, collaboration must be a mutually beneficial relationship.

As our mission statement proclaims, COERLL seeks to promote a culture of collaboration that lies at the heart of the Open Education movement.  In fact, we started this blog to identify potential collaborators, kindred spirits who will join with us to promote open educational products and practices. So, here are my questions: How can COERLL make it easier for foreign language teachers to collaborate on pedagogical materials? What are the impediments to collaboration and how might we overcome them … together?

Baraniuk, R. (2007). Challenges and opportunities for the open education movement: A Connexions case study. In T. Iiyoshi & M.S.V. Kumar (Eds.), Opening up education. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Carl Blyth is Director of COERLL and Associate Professor of French, UT Austin.


  1. Hi Carl, two quick thoughts:
    1. One impediment is a lack of knowledge about (and corresponding suspicion of) open licensing schemes — this is a broader issue, but fortunately also exciting to work on!
    2. Ease of authorship & collaboration re: OER is another. I suspect this will improve — Open Author ( is a tool by OER Commons designed to make it relatively simple to create a media-rich document, license it, and archive it with appropriate metadata all in one go. Other such tools are out there, of course! I’m not an educator and haven’t yet tried them, but they look pretty delightful.

  2. Carl Blyth says

    Hi Sean,
    Thanks for sharing the info about Open Author. I haven’t tried it, but your comment makes me think that I need to look at it more closely I totally agree about the need for better authoring tools. At COERLL, we talk a lot about remixing content, but the truth is that we don’t do it very much because most OER aren’t easy to edit. But things are beginning to change. The bigger impediment is your first item–suspicion of open licenses. As one of our group is fond of saying: “Technology is the easy part.” Meaning: “People are the hard part!”

    • The “remix” part of open licensing does often get left out, I agree. At, we also have done rather less of that than we’d like, and convenience is a big piece of that picture. My hope is that elegant and attractive technologies will help win hearts and minds…

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