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Impact of OER initiatives
The different dimensions of impact
One of the purposes of the UKOER/SCORE Review has been to gather and make sense of the evidence of impact of the UK OER funded initiatives on the very diverse and wide range of stakeholders involved, and to attempt to draw conclusions from that to inform the wider sector. There are several different dimensions to the evidence we have collated around impact of OER and Open Educational Practices (OEP). We have structured synthesis around three of these, although they are not mutually exclusive.
- impact, or potential impact, of OER and OEP on teaching and learning
- impact of being involved in an OER initiative on individuals, communities and a range of organisations
- impact of funding on the UK HE Community
Arguably, the successive OER programmes have had a greater visible effect on the sector than any previous initiative. Continued support for work in this area would make great sense in acting as a powerful driver for the cultural change that is needed to make effective use of technology in teaching. OER activity also provides very visible ‘evidence’ of JISC’s investment and activities to its stakeholders and the general public. (ALTO UK Final Report, 2012)
There is clear evidence that engaging with OER has transformed the practices of some academics and other staff, changed some policies and practices within educational institutions and raised awareness of OEP across a range of stakeholders including public and private sector organisations, and charities. 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. More broadly 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)
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. The final synthesis report discussed issues around terminology of OER and OEP and the team also published two briefing papers which aimed to clarify some of the aspects emerging from the UKOER programme: Open Practices briefing paper and Open practice across sectors briefing paper. Work by SCORE Fellows also included the broader notion of OEP1. Both UKOER and SCORE participants contributed to the 2012 and 2013 Open Education Week activities organised by the OpenCourseWare Consortium reflecting the broader focus.
When considering changing practice in the earlier phases of UKOER we were essentially focusing on practice around development and release of OER, but the emphasis later broadened to include practices around use, re-use and re-purposing. Projects in phase three routinely used the term open educational practice with their stakeholders and described changes in teaching approaches – highlighting the way open practices are impacting on pedagogic design and student involvement, changing stakeholder perceptions and challenging cultures. The professional development arising from project staff engaging with an OER initiative has also been a significant benefit from the HEFCE investment, in terms of knowledge, skills and understanding gained in the field.
Methodologies for evidencing impact
We describe methods used in this study in the UKOER/SCORE Review Introduction but it is interesting to consider some of the challenges around evaluating complex systems. The UKOER evaluation and synthesis frameworks highlight the various elements that have been considered throughout the programme and the different versions of this, as we progressed through the programme, illustrate subtle changes in the emphasis and focus of the evaluation questions we were asking. The complexity of this framework was often challenging for individual projects who sometimes focused their evaluation on the processes of release and on the effectiveness of the project team to deliver their objectives. The broad programme framework, however, included some very nuanced questions around culture and practice change that are difficult to measure and evidence. Final versions of each framework included links out to the evidence gathered around the different focus areas.
UKOER projects were given some guidelines around the kinds of evidence that might be valid in this context and were also offered practical approaches to support their evaluation activities, including demonstrations of the evaluation and synthesis framework, and an evaluation toolkitoffering multiple pathways into the framework with supporting video and printed guides. The toolkit, utilised Googleforms to collate data and offered a mechanism to feed into project reporting. The UKOER synthesis and evaluation team also established an evaluation buddying mechanism where projects with some commonality teamed up and shared practice, ideas and resources. The benefits of this approach were generally appreciated by project teams who embraced the complexities around evaluation for this programme and produced some compelling evidence to support the three Synthesis and Evaluation reports as well as this study.
The use of a Synthesis and Evaluation team as an explicit component of the UKOER Programme, since its inception, has been advantageous in three respects. Firstly, evaluation became a visible and important concept from the outset of a project funding period. Secondly, the use of systems such as ‘evaluation buddies’ precipitated a sharing of thinking and practices amongst clusters of similar projects. Thirdly, having such evaluation consistently throughout all three phases of the Programme, ensured that a large body of evidence has been compiled relating to OER / OEP activities on a national scale. This model of a ‘Synthesis and Evaluation team’ is certainly one that should be applied to future project funding schemes and programmes. (CORE-SET final report, 2013)
It should also be noted that several JISC funded programmes have addressed issues around change models and developed robust mechanisms to evidence this. These fed into our work with UKOER projects who were referred to existing tools and supporting documentation around this. Benchmarking, in particular, has emerged as an important approach for large institutional transformation programmes. Although the UKOER Programme, was essentially about large scale, long term change (at individual, community and institutional level) the short timescales of each yearly phase did not easily allow for baselining as an approach. It is interesting to note that 2 projects (with experience of earlier phases) made some attempt to do this in phase 3 (CORE-SET and SESAME) and this may reflect that they understood the complexities of evidencing complex culture and practice change from their earlier activities and from conversations with the evaluation team.
We had our first meeting with the OER Evaluation and Synthesis team and our ‘evaluation buddy’, the FAVOR project, on 9 May 2012. This was a useful meeting, both for improving our understanding of the JISC evaluation framework and for exploring emerging themes from the two projects. Following the meeting we decided that we needed to revise the focus of our summative evaluation activities to ensure the data we collected was a better fit with the overall JISC evaluation framework. In particular we decided to focus our remaining activities on working with part-time tutors and designed our final tutor survey and focus group with this in mind. Our final tutor survey was designed to closely align with our baseline survey and this proved a successful strategy for gathering evidence of change and impact and our final focus group was also a useful way of collecting more detailed qualitative feedback. (SESAME Project final report, 2012)
Appendix 3 identifies the kinds of indicators used as evidence throughout the UKOER Programme.
Measuring re-use specifically
Projects highlighted some challenges around measuring how far the OER are re-used or re-purposed, not least due to challenges around definitions of re-use and re-purposing. It could be argued that all use requires some element of re-purposing for each different context. The problem for projects is that tracking downloads does not actually provide information about how the OER is being used. One solution adopted across all phases has been to integrate mechanisms to collate information about use, for example through comments and survey forms, into the resources themselves. Most projects in phase three devised comprehensive evaluation activities to provide feedback on the OER through various stages of testing or release with controlled groups, through surveys, focus groups, workshops and interviews. These evaluations were usually focused on the intended target user group/s and many of these may have also been involved in scoping or user requirements activities at the beginning of the projects. The CETIS publication ‘Into the wild2‘ contains a section on the importance of paradata (activity data about a learning resource) which can go some way to providing longer term indications of how the resources are used. Whilst projects in early stages perceived that reuse rates would be a great indicator of quality and impact, they tended to broaden their perceptions in later stages to focus on longer term and wider impacts around changes in academic practice and institutional policies and approaches.
Benefits of OER release, use and OEP
In section 2.1 we discussed how perceived benefits may motivate people to become engaged with OER and OEP, but here we look at the actual benefits that have been evidenced by the UKOER Programme and the SCORE activities. The following list has been generated over a period of three years. A significant focus has been to identify specific benefits for different stakeholders, but it should be noted that people may appreciate the benefits from a range of these different perspectives – so for example a learner can also be an OER originator.
|Learners can benefit from:
||The OER originator can benefit from:
Other staff/users can benefit from:
|Educational Institutions can benefit from:
|Other sectors can benefit from: (e.g. employers, public bodies, private bodies, 3rd sector)
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:
1. increased access for learners (55%)
2. enhanced pedagogy (49%)
3. 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.
Other choices emerged as: furthering OER infrastructure (24%), cross-sector sharing (24%) and institutional reputation gains (22%); with a lower proportion indicating supporting disadvantaged learners (20%), increased efficiencies (14%) and student recruitment (14%). A very low percentage suggested increased personal reputation as a benefit. However, the majority of respondents reported personal benefits in terms of professional development, with increased understanding of issues around licensing featuring strongly.
fig. 2 chart from detailed survey showing main benefits of OER release
Impact on Stakeholders and their relationships
Evaluation activities for this study have revealed both a general growing acceptance of openness which is impacting on practice, pedagogy and policy, and an acknowledgement that engagement with OER offers a focal point for changing the nature of current, mainstream activity in educational institutions. We asked UKOER projects to record how practices around educational content are changing, and in particular how OER development, release and use are evolving across institutions and communities. This impacts on a wide range of different stakeholders and is influenced by the starting point of individuals, institutions or communities and their openness to change.
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 stakeholders from outside the 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.
It is evident that those partners [Sector Skills Councils and Private Companies] have also seen a real benefit of working with us in scoping, developing and disseminating these resources within the wider sectors, and the long term impact this has on improving resources to support the curriculum in a very fast moving industry. Not least this involvement with some very influential partners in the sector will have a very important impact on the use of the OER, their sustainability and on-going relevance, as their endorsement is highly valued.(ReACTOR Project Final Report, 2012)
Many of the stakeholders involved in UKOER were engaging with the notion of OER and OEP for the first time. Some might have engaged with open content or open access, or started to share content through the open web, but not necessarily with the notion of open in an educational context. Different stakeholders have highlighted barriers and enablers to open practice that reflect their own contexts, particularly when engagement challenges existing traditional culture and practices. Many projects illustrated mutual benefits for both their institutions (and their staff and students) and their partners.
Impact on Individuals
Changes in practice
Both UKOER and SCORE activities were interested in practices of teaching staff, professional/support staff and senior/strategic managers, as well as other staff from partner bodies. The changing practices of learners were also of great interest where they could be captured, as they impact on how OER are used and on how teaching staff relate to students around content and knowledge.
We have clear evidence of changing culture and attitudes towards openness amongst people who participated in the UKOER programme and who were engaged with the SCORE Project. The evidence supports the claim that OER initiatives such as SCORE and UKOER are impacting positively on practitioners’ thinking about their own practice and that this cascades into impact on other colleagues. One nursing academic participating in a SCORE fellow’s project described
finding an OER that had a powerful impact on her work, leaving her reflective about her own practice as a nurse, as well as reflective about her teaching.” (SCORE fellow project final report, 2012)
This kind of individual response to engaging with OER and moving to more open practices was also evident throughout all phases of the UKOER Programme across many different contexts and subject disciplines. Project final reports and evaluation reports contain significant evidence that mirror what we found during the SCORE evaluation in 2012 where SCORE Fellows indicated the following impacts on their personal practice:
- A broadening of their awareness and knowledge of the OER field: e.g. “SCORE has given me a good insight into the global picture, and role that governments play.”
- Its value to academic practice and their own readiness to consider reusing OER for teaching alongside other (traditional) resources: e.g. “I am currently leading the e-learning component of a new 4 year nursing programme for 450 students. … The possibility is to have a new major programme with a very high percentage of open content. This will be a very big change for us.”
- Appreciation and understanding of the different issues involved, and links between publication and release: e.g. “Issues of accessibility are key to ensuring the success of the OER movement and to integrate OEP into the sector”.
- More flexible working practices in how they organise the work, select tools, collaborate with colleagues: e.g. “The development of this resource reinforces the importance of having access to a network of colleagues/OER practitioners, as the work often involved consultation with colleagues’ expertise.”
- Access to cascading levels of engagement: e.g. “Such involvement enables me to engage further with the political context of a regional, stereotypically research-oriented UK HE institution.” (SCORE Evaluation Report, 2012)
Academic practices are often context specific and interesting lessons have emerged in relation to subject discipline-based practice or around specific groups of practitioner. For example two projects in phase 3 of UKOER focused on part-time tutors who exhibit unique experiences of, and relationships with, their institutions. Engaging with OER and OEP provided new ways to enhance their teaching and professional practices.
We encountered great enthusiasm and interest from our part-time tutors in professional development opportunities and one of the most significant attitudinal changes identified between our baseline and final tutor survey was an increase from 51.8% to 75.0% of respondents who felt producing OER was “good for their professional development”. (SESAME Project Final Report, 2012)
Teaching staff need to be convinced of the benefits of both releasing their own and using others OER. Reward and recognition for individuals was a significant concern for UKOER projects and some incorporated these outputs into their own institutional HE teaching awards as a way of ensuring sustainability by making OER release a natural part of developing teaching and learning materials. Several project teams suggested that OER release should be included in HE Academy teaching fellowship criteria and they increasingly made comparisons with research and called for comparable visibility for OER, viewed as teaching publications. Some institutions incorporated recognition of both OER release and use into performance review mechanisms, following project activities.
the academic leads have submitted Great Writers Inspire as a pilot case study for the Faculty’s REF submission. Stressing the contribution that the project makes in making research-based teaching and expertise gathered within the Oxford Faculty of English available to all (Great Writers Final Report, 2012)
Many projects found that the enhancement to personal skills, the promise of improved quality of teaching materials through feedback and reflection, a sense of philanthropy, and the excitement of being involved in the open movement, were more reliable and realisable rewards for individuals
It might be an advantage to be a contributor to an OER project, as a showcase of my work for example, but all I’m really interested in as a contributor is making my resources more freely available to other educators to use as they see fit. I think there is some value in my resources that I’m happy to see others take advantage of if they wish. (OpenExeter final report. 2010)
Improved digital literacies of staff emerged as significant across all phases of UKOER. New technical skills and awareness around licencing, linked to new approaches to learning and teaching have resulted in changed practice as educators have started to define themselves as open educational practitioners. Even small changes for some individuals have ongoing implications for long term embedding within departments, faculty and at an institutional level.
In the process of becoming ‘open practitioners’, tutors have learnt new technical skills, shared pedagogical ideas and learnt from others, and adopted new approaches to creating materials. Their project work has raised their profiles within their universities and the community and made a lasting impact on their teaching. (FAVOR Project Final Report, 2012)
Engagement with OER release generally has fostered reflection on existing teaching practice, increased technical skills, improved understanding of IPR and legal aspects, improved use and application of licenses and changes in content production processes. The specific focus areas of individual UKOER projects and SCORE research fellows, such as inclusive practice, CPD and digital literacies, has further enhanced both engagement and practice change.
A key outcome from this project has been the opportunity to work closely with and learn from university teachers in a range of subjects about the ways in which they academically engage their diverse students. Pre and post observation meetings with teachers, students and in some cases student support staff, provided the opportunity to think about inclusive practice within different contexts and from different perspectives. Discussions with staff not only led to changes in their practice, they also challenged our thinking, as researchers and academic developers, around inclusive practice. (Learning to Teach Inclusively Final Report, 2012)
Learner confidence and capability
From our detailed survey with OER initiatives, when asked about impact on students/learners, many respondents indicated it was “too soon to tell”. However, the long set of open comments provide many early indicators of a positive response to, and interest in, OER, garnered anecdotally/informally from feedback in teaching/class, student support and discussions with colleagues as well as more formal student focus groups and surveys. Evidence suggests that registered students and other learners are gaining confidence through their engagement with OER, including greater confidence in their learning, increased use of online ‘open’ resources (e.g. YouTube views/followers), enhanced student projects, collaborations and shared initiatives, including internationally, such as blogging and OER editing/production. Evidence of students’ positive engagement with OER included emails to tutors about their usefulness.
The majority of students had not heard of the term OER, and it is interesting to observe that most OER initiatives and projects are targeting tutors and academic users, but what we have is a superb learning resource for students too. In their open comments they were very enthusiastic and encouraging of the notion of open educational resources, suggesting that resources should be shared. Therefore, work needs to be done to not just train staff to search and use OER, but for students also as users, and potentially contributors as we have demonstrated with students from Arts and Technology. (SCOOTER Project Final Report, 2011)
As mentioned earlier one of the most significant impacts of the UKOER Programme was evidence of the changing relationships between academics and students. This was also echoed during our interviews with selected stakeholders following the detailed survey and was highlighted by many as one of the more exciting and challenging aspects of change emerging from their activities. These changes have the potential to flatten the traditional hierarchy and change the balance of power in learner/teacher relationships. The kinds of changes noted were:
- co-creation of educational resources by students and academics
- new forms of interaction via social media sites
- connections with potential learners and collaborators around the world
- open, public engagement with users of educational content (who are not necessarily registered students) creating opportunities for non formal learning through the release of Open Educational Resources (OER)
- open marketing and showcasing resources
One example of new forms of connecting with potential learners is by using popular social media sites. Benefits of scale are achieved through linking OER with sites such as You Tube. Use of YouTube, for example, to host OER allowed teachers and students to discuss concepts with learners around the world, extending activities beyond disseminating materials to allow for two-way connection and discussion.
The opportunities for students to be involved in the OER initiatives provided them with new understandings that go far beyond just benefiting from using the OER
“[Although] I worked as a summer intern in the School of Engineering at university, my experience has been valuable to the arena of engineering employment. For a start, I was liaising directly with a number of world-leading companies, and even charities, based in the UK, giving them my thoughts and opinions as to where some of their electronic resources would be relevant in undergraduate studies. I also gained from learning some of the finer details of how to convert their electronic content into open educational resources, OER; the specialist legal aspects and the use of file-sharing sites from a technical perspective… It was also useful to see academia from the lecturers’ side of things, getting to see how they are working with outside organisations to bring relevant case-studies and other learning content into university teaching. That was something that I did not fully appreciate was taking place between industry and academia. It is surely something I can give as innovative examples when I look to apply for a position in industry this year after my MEng studies.”[Year 4 MEng student] (CORE-SET Final Report, 2013)
Despite many positive examples of involving students in both OER production, evaluation and dissemination, consideration of student competencies to make best use of resources emerged strongly throughout the three years. Projects questioned both technical and conceptual skills to engage with open resources for their learning, and digital literacies was a high priority for many projects. During UKOER phase 2 the C-SAP expert focus group found that digital resources challenge both student and staff expectations of what is academically credible, and consequently appropriate assessment methods. The evident lack of digital literacy among students in their use of the resources challenges the assumptions of academics about digital natives. As well as highlighting deficits in digital literacies many projects adopted digital literacy activities as a focus for OER awareness raining, engagement, and sustainability. This is discussed in more detail in the section on Critical factors to support open educational practice.
As with staff, students also raised some concerns and misunderstandings around OER, particularly in relation to fears about OER replacing face to face contact (these reflect student concerns about the use of learning technologies generally, but do highlight that OER may be seen as more challenging). We have noted earlier student concerns about paying for courses where the materials are made openly available to non-payers. Work with school students raised different kinds of logistical and ethical issues around e-safety and e-safeguarding requiring parental permissions.
Many UKOER projects were producing materials for non-traditional students and exploiting the potential of OER to take university learning beyond the boundaries of the campus, supporting key strategic areas of widening participation and provision of a flexible curriculum. Remote students on fieldwork, internships and placements were also considered as key stakeholder groups for whom OER could really enhance learning.
Learners can access a curriculum which is more flexible, visible, tailored, blended and integrated with real life experience, which allows them to integrate learning and work and which can provide a bridge into university from work-based or informal learning. Campus-based learners can also benefit (e.g. via Plymouth Award) from reflecting on experiences outside of their course, via these materials. (Learning from WOeRK Project, 2011)
We have evidence from the UKOER phase 3 COMC Project that adopting an open course approach can have significant positive impact on the student experience and a transformative impact on how educators perceive their roles. This approach involved students as co-producers of content through three open media courses. Project activities actually focused less on content and more on refining a collaborative model for open participation – where existing courses were made open and engaged a variety of working professionals to enhance authentic learning experiences for registered students, encourage networking opportunities and stimulate creativity. This open course model provides an interesting alternative approach to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and requires significant institutional support for both the concept and the implementation. Involving open students and working professionals added a dimension of collaboration that could not easily be replicated in a standard undergraduate course. This included students reviewing each others and practitioners work – becoming ‘active participants in a peer-practitioner community’ and also establishing and organising their own exhibition.
The exhibition was a pivotal moment in the transformation of the students’ understanding of their own capabilities, when magnified by the open class approach. It captured and demonstrated their ability – working collaboratively through these platforms – to successfully undertake tasks, which would otherwise be beyond their normal expectations. It is important to note that this exhibition was not an assessed, or expected practical outcome of the face-to-face class. (COMC Final Report)
Overcoming cultural barriers through communities of practice
In one interpretation, the most compelling case for open sharing exists at the level of the topic community (possibly even research-based) within a discipline, and during the pilot phase of UKOER subject and individual strand projects went some way in articulating the benefits of such an approach. Several Phase 2 projects also took a disciplinary approach to release and most noted in some way the impact of disciplinary cultures on OER readiness and approaches to release. Many of them brought their knowledge and understanding from the pilot phase, which helped them support others within their discipline to overcome cultural barriers.
Communities of practice provide excellent environments for creating and releasing resources within existing groups of colleagues. These communities provide a trusted environment for those new to Open Educational Practices. Not surprisingly, then, changes in professional practice are often articulated from within broad communities and/or collectives within which academics share not only resources but ideas around practice.UKOER projects covered a wide range of subject- disciplinesbut also emphasised the value of adapting resources across allied disciplines to increase potential use and value.
UKOER Projects and some of the SCORE Researchers have noted the value of community building and open exchange or sharing as much as that of the open resources. The emerging communities, and strengthened existing communities, are seen as important in relation to sustainability, although as previously described in section 2.ii around community models, this can be challenging if key elements of the communities are threatened in some way, as was the case with the demise of the HE Academy Subject Centres.
Without the lead of SWAP we would not have had the opportunity to create not only a national, but also an international resource where academics and anyone else interested in Social Work/Policy education can obtain resources for use in their own teaching. By leading the application process, they managed to bring together and encourage a number of organisations to work together for the good of the social work community. The potential legacy in terms of this project is the potential it presents for the development of a community of practice’ (Interview conducted as part of the SWAP legacy report to the SWAP Steering Group) SWAP
Although we have much evidence of Communities of Practice providing a trusted environment within which academics and support staff in universities can change their professional practice, there are some challenges with this kind of approach. Longer term these communities can be inward facing, missing opportunities for creativity, innovation and potential personal growth. Homogeneity can limit progress, as alliances form amongst people with similar mindsets. Consequently the release and reuse of OER may not truly be open as they can be too context specific.
Impact on Educational Institutions
At an institutional level motivations were often based on anticipated efficiency gains (around cost savings or marketing potential) or on reputational benefits. However many UKOER projects aligned their work with key institutional strategies such as those around widening participation, employability, external engagement or enhancing learning through flexible curricula and approaches. The phase 2 ALTO project at the University of the Arts London highlighted some of the benefits they had experienced:
A showcase for individual students and staff at the UAL for promoting our work, networking and attracting new students; Helps students making well-informed application choices by providing windows into the world of the UAL = better retention and satisfaction rates; Link with national and international communities of practice to create longer-term collaborations and partnerships (ALTO Project Final Report, 2011)
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. Many phase three projects were building on previous UKOER work which had already received recognition within the organisation and beyond. It is testament to the work of project teams that senior managers, once engaged, saw the range of potential benefits.
With benefits such as efficiency savings, promotional opportunities and enhancement of the student experience, Open Nottingham is designed to foster increased use, reuse and publication of OER by staff and students across the university and beyond. It aims to improve the understanding of what impact OER has on teaching and learning and to measure the effectiveness of open resources as a promotional tool. (PARiS Project Final report, 2011 )
The are likely to be several reasons why OER has not delivered on the anticipated cost savings during the time period of the UKOER Programme. At a basic level it takes time for cost benefits to emerge because initial work around OER may actually require more investment, for example into technologies or support staff with appropriate expertise. This is why seed-funding has had such an impact on the institutions involved.
We anticipated that, once completed, the project would enable us to be more effective by offering considerably more to our students and the wider world with minimal extra resource required from the Weekly Classes Office. This certainly has been a major achievement of the project. Previous attempts to design sustainable online provision for the Weekly Classes programme had failed from being too costly to implement, whereas with the pump priming from the Sesame project we have developed tools and processes that will allow the Department to support this provision at a cost we are confident the programme can sustain. (SESAME Final Report, 2012)
The funding has also increased the corpus of OER across a range of subjects at a national level, which should eventually have an impact on reducing duplication in institutions.
People are increasingly pushed for time and are recognising that there is a lot of really good stuff out there on the web being shared under Creative Commons. However, there is a paradox, with the short-term costs of building resource sharing capacity, and in the long term potentially reducing cost, being out of the reach of currently cash-strapped departments. (PORSCHE evaluation report, 2011)
A significant barrier to achieving short-term cost benefits relates the fact that many projects attempted to reuse existing content, either developed by academics for previous teaching activities or developed by other bodies for incorporation into teaching materials. It is sometimes cheaper to create new content rather than spend time identifying provenance and clearing copyright for existing materials. The main costs are associated with the time involved in preparing and uploading resources, securing copyright clearance, and undertaking any additional development or quality assurance required by the process of open release. These may be borne mainly by specialist staff within central teams or mainly by academic staff with appropriate support. For institutions it is probably not sustainable to keep trying to open/release existing content, however once the mechanisms, processes and procedures are in place to make new materials open, then the anticipated cost savings may emerge. It is also important to balance the costs against anticipated or actual use. The University of Oxford phase 2 OpenSpires Project concluded that the cost efficiencies of producing podcasts as compared to video was also significantly outweighed by the a strong learner preference for podcasts.
It should be noted that learning resources do not have to be completely open (i.e. OER with an appropriate open licence) to realise some of the cost benefits of sharing across an institution. The same applies to some of the other benefits highlighted during the UKOER Programme, for example some of the enhancements to pedagogy might be a direct result of engaging with OER and OEP, but these will still be applicable if the materials were eventually made not fully open. One instance where materials may be made partially open is where staff are nervous about making content open for all so may adopt a ‘staged’ or ‘degrees of openness’ approach allowing them to experiment with the notions of open sharing within a trusted group or community, but not feel too threatened initially. The dangers of this kind of approach is that a catalyst may be needed to take the staff, and their resources, to the next stage which may not exist without further funding.
UKOER Projects were generally optimistic about finding ways of sustaining the creation of new materials without seed funding – from marketing budgets, from public bodies and professional organisations for whom they are providing OER services, by donations following the open source movement model, and by making OER production a part of student project work. Not least the efforts to incorporate OER release and use into ‘normal’ everyday actuitvities remains one of the most significant actions to support ongoing sustainability. We discuss this further in the section on Critical factors to support open educational practice.
Institutional or organisational practice change was a significant focus for the UKOER programme as engaging with OER and OEP more broadly led to a reconsideration of strategy, policy, processes and practice at all levels of the institutions involved. Some projects adopted an institution-wide approach utilising a cross institutional theme, such as employment, or focused on generic skills resources, which offers a compelling case for the benefits across the whole institution. These kinds of benefits relate specifically to cost savings or other kinds of efficiencies around staff time or institutional support and infrastructure. Other institutions focused activities within one department or faculty, taking a more subject-based approach which tended to focus on pedagogical benefits.
In addition to the benefits of releasing and using OER educational institutions experienced quite a few benefits from involving external stakeholders in OER release and evaluation including:
- establishing partnerships that can be ongoing in relation to OER but also in other contexts
- exploring issues of trust, ownership, and rights with other agencies can improve institutional awareness of their own issues and challenges in this area
- new levels of understanding around how external bodies can augment and support curriculum development
- additional content to integrate into learning and teaching materials
- developing sustainable community approaches – either through the provision of supporting technology or networking opportunities
- new understanding around OER release and use through evaluation with external partners – passed on to the wider community through standard research mechanisms, events and publications
- providing opportunities for staff and students to engage with key agencies or groups that may enhance their own learning or future opportunities
Impact on other sector bodies
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. Some external stakeholders struggled to grasp the notion of OER, especially when they came from the private or public sectors and were unsure of the validity of releasing open resources in the longer term (after project funding ended)
Some of the most significant challenges for projects emerged as a result of having to engage with very different organisational cultures of their partners. In addition to the benefits for institutions, indicated above, there was evidence of mutual benefits for the range of partners from outside the education sector. Projects working closely with for example, the NHS, Pharmaceutical industry, professional and skills bodies, industry, employers, charities and publishers all had to be flexible in their approaches and expended much energy in bringing such diverse cultures together.
It is hoped that our positive experiences of working with partners like sector skills councils and private companies may encourage other educational institutions to realise the potential benefits of taking this approach. This does require significant effort and it can be challenging to manage expectations to balance the needs of curriculum with the needs of industry partners. We feel that the benefits are worth the effort involved as it may help to align curriculum needs with those of employers. (ReACTOR Project Final report, 2012)
Working with these different organisations also led to some excellent outputs, such as the Consent Commons paper– developed from a need to create a framework for considerations around patient information. Many projects working with non-educational institutions noted the impact of economic conditions as highly likely to impact on some of the progress made, both in relation to time to engage and increasing competitive aspects.
Analysis of policies (see project Final Report Appendix 3) and interviews have also shown new pressures from upcoming changes to the NHS, resulting in uncertainty, and a worry that there will be a strategic move away from sharing and open access and towards a more commercial future (also highlighted in Section 7).
“All NHS trusts by 2013 have to become foundation trusts. One of the requirements of that is to become income generating, working as a commercial organisation rather than historically how we’ve worked. So there is a bit of a conflict over the willingness to share something openly versus the need to generate income.” (PORSCHE Project Evaluation Report, 2011)
Those projects that worked with the private, public and charitable organisations describe fascinating processes of negotiation, learning and collaboration around overcoming some of the barriers to open release, both technical, legal and cultural. It is recommended that these early investigations with these bodies in the area of OER and OEP should be taken forward in some way before momentum is lost. The funding enabled these bodies to start their own journeys in OEP alongside educational institutions. These collaborative approaches, however have to be sustained to continue the benefits.
Work with commercial publishers, in particular, raised some issues of major relevance to future practice across the wider education sector. The phase 3 PublishOER project identified the following impacts:
- Development of more robust ‘risk managed’ approaches and advice especially in relation to VLE and recorded lectures;
- Raised awareness of copyright infringement in the HE sector;
- Recorded the current position of publishers (those who participated) regarding OER;
- Identification of potential business models for embedding third party published works in OER;
- Developed a prototype technology for supporting new ways of embedding third party published works in OER;
- Better understanding of how students see and use content, and to get feedback about what they want. There is plenty of scope to extend this work to map where students are aiming to be, and what technology they have versus what staff would like them to achieve, or think is good for their students! (PublishOER Project Final Report, 2013)
In addition to this they highlighted changes in approach and practice at Elsevier who appointed an OER champion, to leverage some commonality of approach across publishers and involve trade associations in realising the agreement around a common licensing framework. Elsevier also reviewed their open access policy across a range of products and services and there were plans to continue to work in collaboration with the University of Newcastle in three areas:
- a year-long trial (also with the RVC) involving the donation of 17 textbooks onto 20 iPads for students to borrow, in order to investigate further what students wanted in terms of delivery of content
- piloting the technology using content from open access journals in medicine and dentistry
- consideration of embedding published works in MOOCs and associated support materials
Impact of being involved in an OER initiative
Many of the UKOER projects and SCORE Fellows have reported significant gains in staff understanding, confidence and skills around OER and open educational practices which was seen as significant in changing culture. Increased awareness and capabilities had an impact on practice while new partnerships and collaborative experiences were noted as significant for both subject communities and institutions. Cross institutional working fostered culture change through sharing of resources and practice, whilst external stakeholder engagement (as described above) was seen as having a significant impact of cultures of the various partners. Some projects made significant inroads into clarifying cultural differences between partners and bridging some of the gaps.
The project has highlighted significant differences in culture, practice, infrastructure, business cases, expertise and rate of change between the two cultures of academia and clinical practice in terms of engagement with the OER agenda. There is a risk that further funding constraints might reverse the current direction of travel towards open access in the long-term: at present, it seems likely that the innovations in policy and practice set in motion by the project will be sustained. (PORSCHE Project evaluation report, 2011)
Project staff have almost universally found themselves taking a more collaborative approach to developing teaching materials, and have also found their roles changing as they become the “experts” on OER, and are providing advice for others within the institution. 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.
We have been very impressed by your earlier OER output [the CORE-Materials site], and all of its technical functionalities, which you developed and refined over recent years. It gives us reassurance that you have produced something of high quality that would sit very well alongside our business and its vision for the future. We appreciate that there will be a transfer of know-how from yourselves to this organisation, and that will then allow us to play catch-up with others who are much further ahead of us, who at the moment would have a competitive edge in promoting their offerings to global clients and customers.”[Project Partner C] (CORE-SET Project Final Report, 2013)
Our detailed survey with OER funded initiatives supported our conclusions as we asked participants as individuals what personal benefits they have experienced as a result of being involved with an OER initiative. Responses where overwhelmingly positive (we had included some less positive options as well for the sake of balance) with increased awareness (54%) and increased opportunities for collaboration across institutions, sectors and subject disciplines featuring highly (all around the 57% mark). Over 50% of respondents identified better understanding of technical aspects and positive impact of pedagogic practice with71% highlighting increased understanding around licensing.
fig. 3 chart from detailed survey showing personal benefits of being involved in an OER initiative
Impact of funding on the UK HE Community
Our detailed survey, short poll and follow-up interviews with OER funded initiatives allowed us a glimpse into some of the impact after the funded period, and to have conversations with participants who had since had time to reflect and perhaps obtain a clearer picture of how their OER were being used and how far the practice changes facilitated by funding have continued.
Making a difference
The detailed survey, distributed to UKOER/SCORE related communities and networks specifically, indicated the importance of the funded work to raise awareness, link and empower individuals and communities of developers and users (both students and staff as ‘Open Education Practitioners’), and galvanise the institutions involved. When asked how far they felt people in their institution/organisation are aware of HEFCE funded OER initiatives (outside the project team members), responses indicate that this is still predominantly limited to pockets within institutions:
- awareness in pockets (67%)
- very low awareness (27%)
- generally wide-scale awareness (6%).
This level of awareness, engagement and participation appears to remain potentially an inner circle. Respondents (129) in the wider sector poll mostly indicated they had had no or some engagement with either the OER infoKit, UKOER projects, SCORE supported activities or some other international OER related initiatives (namely OERu, University of the People & EdX). (Engagement was defined as involvement in a project, using a service or resources, attending events, supporting roles, collaborative roles.) The relatively high response rate from those engaged in OERu was the result of an email posting on the OERu discussion list encouraging these respondents. Analysis of the 38 “other” responses threw up MOOCs (5), OPAL (3), Coursera (3), DS106 (3), learnhigher (2), OERtest (2), OER Africa (2), OpenLearn (2), Creative Commons (2). A minority indicated directly funded engagement or their intention to engage.
SCORE and UKOER had different aims and models of engagement. Both appear to have achieved their aims, but the differences in engagement models show up with SCORE showing a much higher ratio of “some engagement” to “direct funding” than UKOER, but UKOER showing greater absolute numbers of both “some engagement” and “direct funding”. The OER infoKit shows both better ratio of “some engagement” to “direct funding” and greater absolute levels of “some engagement” than either UKOER or SCORE.
Wider evidence, from all our sources for this study, of involvement in the HEFCE funded UKOER/SCORE work having an impact on institutions/organisations, overall, was very encouraging. A significant percentage of projects and SCORE activities indicated increased institution-wide awareness, changes in culture and practice, and increased collaboration (both internally and with external partners & wider sectors). There have also been some excellent reports of new and adapted strategies and policies. While a small percentage of survey respondents reported little or patchy impact across the institution, the findings are a significant indicator for the most part of institution-wide change and commitment (impacting on sustainability of funded activities).
The detailed survey asked what kinds of evidence they had to illustrate impact of being involved with an OER initiative on institutions/organisations. 45% of respondents identified evidence around culture and practice change which we feel reflects the impact of using the evaluation framework to capture this kind of evidence. Only 16% of respondents noted that there had been little impact and 23% identified evidence of change mainly within specific departments.
fig. 4 chart from detailed survey showing evidence of impact on their organisation
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. This indicates that there is still a long way to go in terms of sector-wide awareness and maturity of OER release and use, and open practices more generally.
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.
We have some evidence of a shift in mindsets of academics towards ‘open pedagogy’ where students can set learning pathways and be the producers of content. However, progress in this area maybe inhibited by focus on educational content rather than learning activities. Change requires an even more fundamental shift focusing on learners’ ability to learn in open networks. The majority of institutions are actually only part-way along the OER and OEP journey, despite all these activities and funding. As a sector, therefore, there is a need to consider how this work can best be consolidated and how institutions might be encouraged to continue to move forward with ‘open’ developments in a climate of financial constraints.
“I believe that the direction of travel is permanent, we will not go back from here, and the institution isn’t anti-OER, just slow to respond. However it is responding as an organisation (not as a cottage industry) and my group has been commissioned for £10K to work with staff and schools (departments) to educate them in using OER from elsewhere and having a high standard of copyright compliance. It is a first step.” (Survey respondent, 2012)
UKOER projects that worked with the private, public and charitable organisations describe fascinating processes of negotiation, learning and collaboration around overcoming some of the barriers to open release, both technical, legal and cultural. It is recommended that these early investigations with these bodies in the area of OER and OEP should be taken forward in some way before momentum is lost. The funding enabled these bodies to start their own journeys in OEP alongside educational institutions. These collaborative approaches, however have to be sustained to continue the benefits.
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. This answer, and findings from our earlier SCORE review, tends to consolidate the notion of ‘champions’ who will take the ideas and awareness forward. In a climate of constrained funds and anxiety about staff employment and roles, it is increasingly difficult to recruit, develop and retain the specialist expertise required for OER initiatives. Projects commented on the expertise they had been able to gather and draw upon, but it was not always clear how this expertise was being embedded and whether it would be lost to the institution once funding ended.
In our detailed survey with OER funded initiatives 55% of respondents indicated that their institution/organisation had continued support of the OER initiative and vision since project funding ended, 8.5% had not. For the other 36%, the project had not yet ended (July 2012). However, UKOER phase 3 reports provided significant evidence of sustainable approaches and articulated an intention to continue with this work, supported by strategy, policy and practice change. This was also reflected in phase 1 and 2 reports – although a lot of these have had ongoing funding from the programme, and in the subsequent phase 3 project final 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. Examples from respondents included:
- Financial support – e.g. £10k “to help the institution to share understanding of high quality approaches to ensuring that the institution complies with legal good practice”.
- Development/technical support – e.g. “to implement recommendations” arising from the project, such as staff time allocated, regular monitoring and evaluation of key sources of OER in our specific areas of interest, “The fact that the repository now exists and has replaced a myriad of smaller schemes and (less open) ways of distributing resources has been welcomed widely.”
- Partnership support e.g. “supporting opportunities to apply fo further funding … to develop bespoke versions” for specific purposes, work allied to other ongoing initiatives in the institution.
- Embedding support e.g. “work to continue to explore, support and exploit the potential offered by OER is included within the strategic objectives”, “systems for supporting teachers and providing teaching materials for reuse”, “Contributions form tutors have been coming in, and new collaborative practices emerge, but the time-factor and worries over copyright are probably the main limiting factor.”
A critical factor for sustainability is when institutions build on their existing strengths and set their journey along known pathways. There are obvious advantages in scaling up existing key strengths, rather than taking transformational steps. Initiatives can be mainstreamed relatively quickly:
The real way of trying to get sustainability or viability is to see the value that it adds to existing activity such that it gets incorporated into existing budgets. It’s not an add on, it’s not a change… (Interview respondent R10)
UKOER Community of Practice
We have referred to the benefits of developing or utilising trusted networks and communities of practice to support engagement and activities around OER and OEP. Collectively, there is evidence of a highly engaged and expert community of practice that networks across institutions, regionally, nationally and in most cases internationally, representing a vibrant UK presence in the field. Both the SCORE Evaluation Report and the UKOER Phase 3 synthesis report highlight the strength of this community and the latter notes this as a significant factor for longer term dissemination of UKOER outcomes and outputs, as well as providing a pool of expertise in the UK that can act as an advocate for UK activities on an international stage and support ongoing research and development in the area within the UK.
The UKOER programme did help to draw together these communities in a new way, partly through the approach to project support that meant much of this expertise was available to projects throughout the programme via the support teams (JISC CETIS, JISC Legal, Jorum team, SCORE, Evaluation and synthesis team, Web2Rights Team). However, the Community has grown as project members have developed their own areas of expertise, brought new insights and viewpoints and been very open to sharing their own practices. This is quite a significant outcome of the programme. (UKOER phase 3 Final report, 2013)
The HEFCE funding has helped to consolidate a very strong Community of Practice around UKOER which also incorporates SCORE participants. During the study we asked Martin Hawksey from JISC CETIS to use some visualisation techniques to illustrate the interconnectedness of the two communities through activity on the social network Twitter – https://twitter.com/ukoer and https://twitter.com/OpenEG.
In this representation, each node represents a single follower, the size of the node being scaled; individuals most central in terms of community activity are identifiable by a much larger circle in the groups (figure above). By switching between the visuals, we can see the community bridging capacity of particular Twitter profiles (e.g. the ‘BetweenCentrality’ visual shows that @SCOREProject has three well connected intercommunity bubbles acting as bridges to the SCOREProject community. While the @UKOER following appears more interconnected (as represented in the ‘In-Degree’ visual), @SCOREProject may have greater reach given some followers have a higher ‘Followers count’. What is interesting here is the general inter-connectedness of the OER community.
As the programme drew to a close Phil Barker from JISC CETIS posted a message to the oer-discuss mailing list asking the following question
But what now? The programme has always aimed at sustainable release of resources, change of culture and practice, not just a short burst of activity leading to a one-off dumping of resources. What will happen over the next few years by way of sustained release and which practices are sustainable? Also, of course, from a CETIS point of view, what technologies can help? (Phil Barker, JISC CETIS)
This prompted a a seemingly simple question about continued use of the ukoer tag, which developed into the great ukoer tag debate (see the blog post by Lorna Campbell from JISC CETIS) that highlighted the strength of the UKOER community and raised questions about how that community might continue to work together beyond the funded period. The community continues to use the #UKOER hashtag (April 2013) 6 months after the end of programme funding and uses twitter to have regular chat sessions on specific aspects of OER and OEP.
A guide to terminology with definitions of key words and phrases has been produced and has been informed by the UKOER programme and the deeper understandings that have arisen over the last three years.
The OER infoKit was produced to both support projects throughout the programme and to gather key messages (outcomes) and key resources (outputs) emerging from the projects.
What difference has HEFCE funding made?
We have significant evidence that HEFCE funding has enabled transformation as individuals, communities and institutions involved in funded OER initiatives have moved substantially further along in their OER and 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.
Conversely, communities of practice seem excellent environments for creating and releasing resources within a trusted group of colleagues. These communities provide a trusted environment for those new to OEP. Not surprisingly, then, changes in professional practice is often apparent within broad communities and/or collectives within which academics share not only resources but ideas around practice. However, long term these communities can become inward facing, inhibiting potential growth, creativity and innovation and can the release and reuse of very context specific OER which may not truly be open.
So whilst we can argue that we have seen evidence of transformation we also know that there is pressure to maintain a status quo by aligning new practice to existing priorities, strategies and approaches. The driver to gain institutional commitment and support led to many projects arguing that OEP should be mainstreamed and in fact, many felt that this would aid longer term sustainability. There is a view that non-alignment of open educational activities with mainstream university activity would be problematic and would slow down progress. This suggestion is particularly relevant in the climate of ‘survive and thrive’, in which most universities and college currently find themselves, which is not inductive for innovation and radical change.This is evidenced by many institutions choosing to incorporate OER and OEP into existing strategies. This highlights a real tension for funded initiatives as this mainstreaming approach may result in them missing some of the more far-reaching benefits of OEP.
Where projects instigated new specific OER and /or OEP strategy or policy may be where we find stronger evidence of transformation that is sustainable. If we look at fig 4 above we can see that around 50% of respondents to our detailed survey indicated that new strategies or policies had been developed as a result of the funded work, compared to a significantly smaller number (27%) identifying changes to existing policies or strategies. This may indicate that changes to policy and practice have happened after the funded period as a result of embedding. It should be noted that projects were funded for only one year and had little time to show evidence of embedding at the final reporting stage. The phase 3 UKOER synthesis and evaluation report recommended that any future approach to funding might better include an additional funded period, after a suitable gap, to enable evaluation of impact and outcomes. Indeed it may be useful to revisit projects at a later date to carry out the survey again, although project teams tend to break up and move on to other posts.
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,these 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 Critical factors to support open practice