Go back to HEFCE-Review-Executive-Summary
Go forward to UKOER/SCORE-OER-Review-Introduction
For a full discussion on Impacts and benefits go to UKOER/SCORE-Review-Impact
We have significant evidence that HEFCE funding has enabled transformation for individuals, communities and institutions involved in funded Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives as they have moved substantially further along in their OER and Open Educational Practice (OEP) journeys, regardless of their initial starting points. Increased awareness, knowledge and expertise around issues to do with technical, quality, accessibility, and legal aspects have led to the development of systems, policies and procedures to support ongoing OER activities. We have described some substantial changes in practice, where individuals may have had to challenge existing traditions and culture within their institutions and communities. This is tremendously difficult to do as traditional norms and entrenched cultures can hinder practice change. Educational institutions, in particular, with their focus on fixed goals and plans tend to replicate what they are familiar with and avoid radical or disruptive change yet we have seen reports of new and adapted strategies and policies. We see this as a significant indicator of institution-wide change and commitment that is likely to impact on longer term sustainability of activities kick-started by this funding.
Whilst there is strong evidence that institutions involved in several phases of UKOER activity have increased awareness and competencies of staff and developed infrastructure to support open educational practices, there is less evidence that this is transferable outside individual institutions. Even with all the funding and the significant institution-wide engagement, awareness around OER and OEP outside projects is still fairly limited. With regards to OER specifically, there is a danger within the sector of a sense of moving beyond OER onto other higher profile and ‘buzzwordy’ initiatives, such as MOOCs, but these often do not use OER or focus on open content. There is evidence of a disconnect between OER and Open Courses, which could result in challenges in getting the wider community to focus on what we have learned as a result of this funding.
Our detailed OER survey and interview data reveal that by far the greatest driver for sustained activity in this area has been the enthusiasm of staff. If this is the key aspect then sustainability may be precarious if staff leave or enthusiasm wanes or shifts focus. The majority of respondents indicated that their institution/organisation had continued support of the OER initiative and vision since project funding ended, a finding corroborated by the UKOER phases 1,2 and 3 reports. Overall, this does appear to indicate effective sustainability approaches in the majority of cases, with some exceptions where institutions had not (yet) taken OER developments or strategies further.
There is clear evidence that engaging with OER has not only transformed the practices of academics and other staff, but has raised awareness of OEP across a range of stakeholders including public and private sector organisations, and charities. The notion of OEP emerged during phase two of the UKOER programme (2010-2011) as a growing area of focus in the UK and wider learning and teaching communities, and was discussed in the final synthesis report, the synthesis team’s two briefing papers OEP briefing paper.pdf and OEP across sectors briefing paper.pdf, and by some of the SCORE fellows. Projects in phase three routinely used the term open educational practice with their stakeholders and described changes in teaching approaches.
OEP is changing relationships between learners and academics, and between academics and organisations, whether their own university where they are employed or with other bodies outside the education sector. They have been collaborating, not only with other staff, but also in some cases, with learners, to produce or re-purpose OER, and have noted a flattening of the usual hierarchical relationship between teacher and learner. In a broader sense academics are having to change their practice to:
- work with (sometimes unknown) people around the world
- attain global reach
- work across sectors (public, private, third sector)
Evidence from the UKOER projects and SCORE activities showed benefits of OER activities to:
- the OER originator
- other staff/users
- educational institutions
- other sectors
Our detailed survey with HEFCE-funded OER initiatives offered some idea of which of these benefits were of most significant. When asked to select their top 3 benefits of releasing and encouraging use of OER, survey respondents predominantly indicated:
- increased access for learners (55%)
- enhanced pedagogy (49%)
- increased sharing between educators in the same discipline (41%).
This top 3 list might not be what most would expect to see. In particular it is not obvious to people with little experience of OER how far releasing and engaging with OER can enhance pedagogy. This, we feel, reflects the fact that people involved with the HEFCE-funded initiatives have developed a fairly sophisticated understanding through direct experience made possible by the funding.
A characteristic of OEP, compared with conventional forms of academic practice, is that it changes the nature of relationships between people. For example relationships change:
- between academics and support staff, as people work in multi-disciplinary teams, sharing areas of expertise;
- amongst academics, as teaching practice shifts from individual practice to cross-institutional and inter-institutional collaboration;
- between academics and students, as teachers and learners (who may not be registered with a university) interact in new ways;
- between academics and organisations (including the university where they are employed) as university activities open up.
The complex interplay between stakeholders emerged as an interesting feature, not least in relation to roles that different stakeholders may take, with some from outside the education sector having new roles to play in shaping the curriculum, influencing OER formats and platforms, evaluating OER usability and accessibility, and disseminating outcomes and OER more widely.
UKOER projects benefited from working with a wide range of partners and included these in the scoping, development, evaluation, dissemination, and sharing of OER. This took considerable resourcing. Awareness raising activities were a major focus – not only around OER and OEP but around the different working practices of the institutions and organisations involved. Projects had to invest significant time in visiting individual partners to find out the unique aspects of each partner and what they could bring to the project. This kind of effort and the resourcing it required was made possible by the availability of funding, and is less likely to have happened without this. The impact has been a raised awareness of OER and OEP and evidence of how organisations outside the sector can work in partnership with educational institutions. Many partners and institutions noted a willingness to maintain these connections after the funded period and indicated that future collaborative work would be considered.
There is little hard evidence of OER contributing to cost efficiencies during the one year projects, but most institutions involved in the programme developed an understanding of the reputational benefits of OER release, particularly in relation to showcasing and marketing. This led to an increased focus on quality, branding and making sure that OER are easily discoverable.
In this study we aimed to consider the reflexive interactions of professionals (academics and support staff), their structural contexts (colleges and universities), and social and technological change (openness). What has been interesting is that we have seen a variety of different models for engaging with OER and moving forward towards more open practices. Initiatives were sometimes led by individual champions, providing a bottom-up approach which, to some extent, forced institutions and communities to respond and adapt. This has transformed the environments for participants but also has potential to impact on other individuals who operate within that ecosystem (the potential for sustained change through embedding new practice and culture change). On the other hand we have seen approaches where ‘top-down’ measures have impacted on individuals effectively forcing change upon individuals. Whilst only one institution adopted a ‘mandate approach’ some of the transformations to institutional policy or community approaches meant that individuals are compelled to respond by following recommended practice or procedures. This may appear to be a negative assessment of the impact of funding but it is meant to illustrate the inter-connectedness of individual practitioners and their wider contextual influences. This is further complicated by the fact that individuals (both learners, teachers and other professionals) are often members of multiple communities and networks and have to balance the pushes and pulls of each.
This study provides empirical evidence of emerging OEP through activities around OER. However,OEP journeys appear to be highly contextualised. To achieve sustainability universities tend to journey to familiar destinations, building on what they are already doing. By following familiar paths institutions are bringing about change, though the change may not appear to be highly transformational. We recognise that the HEFCE funded OER activities are part of a long-term change agenda, involving universities and colleges, support agencies and individuals within these organisations. As work continues to be embedded and practice evolves at the level of individuals, institutions and cross-sector, society will continue to benefit from HEFCE’s large scale investment and support in driving forward an agenda of ‘openness’ in education.
Forward to UKOER/SCORE-Review-Introduction
For a full discussion on Impacts and benefits go to UKOER/SCORE-Review-Impact