RIP Jean-Claude Bradley, Open Innovator

I learned haphazardly via Twitter the other day that Jean-Claude Bradley had passed away quite recently, am still reeling a bit from this news, despite never having met him in person.  When Open Education Resources were becoming a thing, JC Bradley was one of the first people I had heard about actually innovating his teaching around an idea of open. I referenced him on numerous occasions on this blog, first in 2006 when I came across a presentation he had done on how he was changing his teaching around podcasting and blogging, where, by providing students with a lecture archive in advance,  he was replacing his live lectures with hands-on workshop stuff.  I’m not sure JC ever got credit for possibly being the first flipper of classrooms, and he didn’t stop there anyways, adding wikis to that mix which I blogged again in 2006,  and then becoming well known in the organic chemistry community for his creation and development of Open Notebook Science.  His huge accomplishments are captured quite succinctly in this short bio and it is a good launching pad for more info about his open work. And don’t pass up the comments on this 2007 Nature publication which is a bit of a time capsule read and captures so much of the open publishing discussion that is now familiar to us.

In 2009,  I interviewed JC Bradley for a BCIT teaching and learning podcast series that I was kicking off centering on  instructors doing innovative things with teaching and technology. The audio link is now broken, but I’ve reposted the edited version here.  JC was an obvious choice for the inaugural podcast, and he graciously and generously let me record a 20 minute phone chat with him.

We spent the first part of the conversation talking about the francophone community in Ontario, where he was from, our linguistic misadventures in Paris (where he did a post-doc) and his love for the CBC.   At around the 7′ mark he starts talking about how he navigated away from the LMS in favour of wikis and podcasts and the blogs:


“…most of the course management systems are designed for keeping people out and I’m trying to make my material as open as possible.  For me, it’s actually easier to use a public wiki, a public blog, because those are designed to actually be open, and they’re quickly indexed in Google and I get all those advantages…”


At the 10′ mark he talks about how working openly has allowed him to meet several of his current research collaborators, citing this as one of the key advantages.  It’s incredible to think about this conversation in a 2009 context, especially since he was already on this path in 2006.  UPDATE:  There’s a great transcript of an interview with him  from 2010 about his whole approach to open notebook science,  open publishing, and even patents.

But what struck me most about my conversation with JC Bradley is how much he seemed to be an ego-free, enthusiastic advocate for doing something differently in a way that benefitted his students and his discipline.   I wished we could have crossed paths in person, had a beer, and continued this conversation.


Open models and open teaching in the bricks and mortar institution

With mostly excitement and some anxiety, I’ve been thinking ahead to the OpenEd 2009 conference this August at UBC and have been working with Stephen to think about the focus we want to take with our presentation.  Most conference time slots are frustrating in that they really only let you breeze through the surface of your presentation, and hopefully elicit some good questions from the audience who hopefully got something out of your drive-by.  But we’re at a stage with our topic on Open Models where we want to be challenged and pressed to think differently about the topic and what potential might lie with the model.  I think this requires greater articulation of the rationale for this model, and some concrete examples where it has the most potential.  If time allows, we’re going to go in this direction:

1.  In our presentation and paper at the ICDE 2009 conference I mentioned (Bourdieu’s)  notion of English (and higher ed in English) as social/cultural capital, but I think this needs more explanation in relation to the importance of allowing access for global participation (with credits) in our bricks and mortar institutions.  This is also related to a need for models where barriers such as institutional bureaucracies and TOEFL scores can be by-passed to make this happen.

2.  We made the point that the OER movement to date has largely focussed on content and distribution of this content, but needs to move into the development of new models for education that allow for greater participation (with credits) to a more global population.   We feel it is timely to be reminded that in some constructivist views of formal education, content is actually not the most important piece of the education puzzle, but the interactions and engagement that take place in the learning space (broadly defined) and the multiple perspectives that are encountered in those interactions are where learning occurs.  Therefore, a model that embraces open access needs to account for this, which is why our model creates access for global participation with credits, and doesn’t spend much time on how OER content is being used.

3.  Our model evolved out of a desire create more opportunity to bring in local (globally dispersed) perspectives into a global forum in order to provide multiple perspectives on a topic in an authentic manner.  We’ve described this in terms of making the “local knowledge global” and the “global knowledge local”).  Stephen has since come up with the term “ecology of knowledge” but we have now discovered there is a well established discipline of “knowledge ecology“.  We’re going to tie in with this idea if appropriate.

3.  Stephen has a mild horror/fascination with global pandemics (he wouldn’t agree:)) and in his last few presentations has expressed the value of the model for disciplines such as the health sciences.  Specifically, a PBL medicine course would have students from geographically dispersed locations working together on cases, again making the local global and vice versa.  The urgency and the interest that has been expressed in ensuring that the developing world has access to current medical publications and up to date information has obviously influenced this example, coupled with Stephen’s observation that with any global health crisis there is no one solution or strategy that can be applied to any local context, while at the same time there is a need for global cooperation and collaboration.  It’s an interesting tension, and obviously one that applies to other disciplines such as  international development. 

The crux of our argument is that we feel that open course models integrated into traditional bricks and mortar institutions are critical in not only expanding the internationalisation agendas of these institutions, but in expanding the boundaries that these institutions have come to place on access, pedagogy, and knowledge.  One model is admittedly a micro step, but if it succeeds in altering the current course-based paradigm that we are in, then perhaps there will be more innovation of the educational experience these institutions currently provide.