What is open education?

Scooter Wordcloud

What is open education?

Open education in the widest sense should enable students to choose their own educational settings, experiences and materials. The philosophy of openness started to specifically apply to technology in the late 1990’s with the open source software community passionately sharing their computer code and allowing the creation of derivative works. Today we have notable brands such as OpenOffice.org competing against Microsoft Office, and open source versions of probably all propriety software.

In 2002 the open phenomenon spread to educational resources with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) deciding to release their course materials for free on the internet in the form of the OpenCourseWare initiative. Also in 2002 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) first coined the phrase open educational resources (OER), and defined it as “a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building”. Alongside these initiatives open licences have been developed including Creative Commons which provides a simple set of clauses to facilitate the sharing and borrowing of materials.

Scooter Wordcloud

Have open education initiatives achieved their goals?
There certainly has not been a shortage of individuals and institutions willing to share their images, modules and even entire courses on the internet. In the UK, since the repository JorumOpen was launched in 2008 there have been over 10,000 deposits from over 800 institutions and individual authors. What is more difficult to ascertain is the extent to which materials have been used, repurposed and re-deposited, therefore has knowledge been genuinely shared and had an impact, or are the resources gathering dust?

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in the US support social and environmental projects around the world and champion open education in order to “equalize access to knowledge for teachers and students”. One example is OER Africa which already boasts a tremendous catalogue of OERs and more importantly whose mission is to connect like-minded educators and academics and build collaborative networks.

A challenge that open education faces to achieve its goals is discoverability. Currently OER programmes support the building of separate repositories to house resources offering users multiple places to search and a confusing choice of where to deposit material. It would be far more effective to think from the user’s perspective and make OER discoverable from search engines, and to develop a common procedure for tagging and cataloguing to provide a consistent approach as we’ve seen with licensing.

SCOOTER open education project in the UK.

The SCOOTER project run by the School of Allied Health Sciences at De Montfort University in the UK aims to release OER on the subject of sickle cell and thalassemia, depositing all materials on JorumOpen and providing a searchable database or OER. Resource pages will be discoverable via the search engines. The SCOOTER team are passionate about building a vibrant community of users. Within a week of being launched, the SCOOTER website attracted unique visitors including a sickle cell patient and a researcher looking at natural ingredients as a potential therapy. Through the project forum and social network the team aim to grow the community and involve them in resource production, peer review, use and reuse content.

New challenges will surely emerge as economic factors change the face of Higher Education in the UK and wider a field, and Open Education may hold the key to the future as students choose their own educational settings and tailor-make their own experiences.

100th anniversary of the discovery of sickle cells

Sickle Cell Herrick Paper

This year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication that first described the medical condition Sickle Cell Anaemia. James Herrick was a doctor in Chicago, USA, and wrote about his observations of a patient with severe anaemia. When blood samples were viewed under the microscope Herrick noted “peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles”.

The paper was first published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, November 1910 and has since been re-released by Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine in 2001 (Herrick 1910).

The patient had been brought up in the West Indies, and around the age of 17 started to experience palpitations and shortness of breath. Herrick conducted a thorough physical examination and records his observations in his 1910 paper. The diagnostic tests performed were basic by today’s standards. The urine was analysed and was found to not be at all abnormal. No traces of tuberculosis bacteria were found in the sputum, and other routine tests of that time such as stool examinations yielded no abnormal results.

When Herrick started to examine the blood, the first “peculiarities” started to appear. A blood sample was taken and a blood count performed, but the numbers of red and white blood cells were normal. When studying the blood cells by light microscopy, the first anomalies started to appear, and Herrick records beautifully in his paper the first ever appearance of Sickle Cell Anaemia.

Sickle Cell Herrick Paper

“The shape of the reds was very irregular, but what especially attracted attention was the large number of thin, elongated, sickle shaped and crescent-shaped forms”. (Herrick 1910).

Herrick conducted a nice experiment and compared the patient blood to a control sample of healthy blood, showing that the sickle shapes were artefacts of the preparation. His final verdict on the diagnosis remained open, and Herrick urged the medical community to remain vigilant for similar cases. One hundred years on, our knowledge of Sickle Cell Anaemia is greatly advanced and we are all familiar of the images of the sickle shaped cells.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary

To celebrate the 100th anniversary this website http://www.sicklecellanaemia.org has been established by De Montfort University to provide a centre for educational resources on the subjects of Sickle Cell Anaemia and Thalassemia.

The project called SCOOTER “Sickle Cell Open- Online Topics and Educational Resources” is funded by the UK HEFCE and managed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of their Open Educational Resource initiative.



Herrick J B (1910). Peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles in a case of severe anemia. Republished in 2001. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, volume 74, pages 179-184. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2588723/pdf/yjbm00012-0035.pdf.

Sickle Cell Anaemia Open Education Project

Sickle cell image

2 Nov 2010

This year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication that first described the medical condition Sickle Cell Anaemia. To coincide with this anniversary it gives me great pleasure to introduce SCOOTER, an open education project from De Montfort University, Leicester UK.

SCOOTER stands for “Sickle Cell Open – Online Topics and Educational Resources”. SCOOTER is funded by the UK Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) , and both the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) are working in partnership to develop the HEFCE “Open Educational Resources” (OER) programme, supporting UK higher education institutions in sharing their teaching and learning resources freely online across the world.

Building on the work of a pilot which took place between April 2009 and March 2010, a second phase of projects and activities is now running until August 2011, of which SCOOTER is one of several projects. This phase will extend the range of materials openly available, and SCOOTER will produce educational resources on the topics of Sickle Cell Anaemia and Thalassemia, also known as Cooley’s disease in the US.

Sickle cell image
Christopher Roever, http://www.flickr.com/photos/55259882@N00/2721765425 CC BY-NC-SA

What will happen next?
I’m Dr Vivien Rolfe the Project Leader, and along with Professor Simon Dyson and Dr Mark Fowler, and a growing team of De Montfort University staff, over the course of the year we will be releasing onto this website educational materials including photographs, laboratory data, slide presentations, videos and animations. We will be explaining how to produce open content, and how to licence material for use, such as using the Creative Commons licences associated with the pictures above.

Would you like to be involved?
Do you have materials or ideas for a resource?

Do you want to follow the progress of the SCOOTER project?

Do you want to be involved in testing out new resources?

If the answer is YES, then we would be delighted if you could email us DMUSCOOTER@gmail.com and we will include you on our mailing list of already 200 researchers, health professionals, employers and education providers all working in the areas of Sickle Cell Anaemia and Thalassemia around the world.