Cultural considerations

Cross strand evidence to support this section is recorded at: Cultural-change-evidence

Strand evidence is recorded at release | cascade | omac

Cultural issues are covered in some detail in several other pages. Organisational and institutional cultures can have significant impact on engagement with OER and changes in culture are essential to support staff contemplating OER release and use. These are discussed in more detail in the section on institutional issuesPractice change has been a major focus for this phase and includes cultural issues as they impact on motivations and barriers to release and use, as well as highlighting the extent of cultural change required to facilitate changes in practice for a range of stakeholder groups. Project experiences of how culture change has impacted on curriculum development and on pedagogic practice is also covered in the section on impacts and benefits.

How are existing cultures being challenged, strengthened, contested, changed through releasing and using OERs?

Many of the projects reported significant gains in staff understanding, confidence and skills around OERs andopen 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 (for example, employers, NHS bodies) 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 evaluation report

Collections Projects found that it was not so much the academic or subject discipline cultures that were being challenged, as the OER community.  They felt that the potential challenge of the availability of OERs was not being realised because of low practitioner awareness of copyright/licensing and low incentives to share.

There is no strong culture of OER provision at individual or institutional level except in a very restricted set of institutions. The default position continues to be that of guarding rights to intellectual property, rather than of finding ways to share and add value to existing material (Delores)

Hence the challenge specifically highlighted by the C-SAP collections project was the other way round – to the OER community to rival Google in its usability, personalisation and provision of relevant results.

The importance of Google and other popular commercial sites cannot be underestimated; both in terms of the resources they produce and the expectations that they provide the user.  OER repositories are judged in this light and, when this is coupled with an assumption that copyright is of little significance, accounts for the low use of such repositories.(C-SAP)

Subject disciplinary cultures

Disciplinary cultures were richly researched by the Subject strand of the UK OER pilot programme. Several Phase 2 projects took a disciplinary approach to release and most noted in some way theimpact 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. A list of projects from both phases are identified by subject areas on this page: Subject Disciplines. In Phase 2 two of the Cascade projects and several Release strand projects had a subject discipline focus. Many of these covered a wide range of related disciplines and emphasised the value of adapting resources across allied disciplines, such as healthcare, business, built environment social work and social policy. In contrast, very specific subject areas with strong existing communities can utilise OERs to further enhance sharing of both resources and practice. The SCOOTER project’s focus on sickle cell and thalassaemia was one example from the Release strand.

Arts and design subjects with cultural practices of exhibition, collaborative studio spaces and the need to share tacit knowledge (often not written) seem particularly well suited to open approaches. Resources produced through creative processes thrive on visibility, but sensitivities to the commercial value of artistic works can be challenging where professional and teaching practices operate in parallel. In subject areas where the skills and knowledge are considered more important than the ‘validation’ of these through qualifications, making the learning/teaching process too accessible can be seen as problematic:

‘There are competing philosophies – one of sharing, it is our instinct [as teachers] to share and one of the market and competing – it seems to be offering a confused notion of knowledge’ (Focus Group participant) ADM

Collections projects generally noted a lack of a cutlure of OER release, adoption and use across institutional boundaries. OF (GEES) found among their users,

a culture of sharing (by traditional methods) within institutions, and enthusiasm for reusing and repurposing the work of others, but less for having own work reused and repurposed in other institutions” (OF (GEES))

This finding exemplifies the more general finding that cultural differences noted by the projects were not so much between disciplines, but between different types of stakeholder.  Thus, the Delores project argued that the OER requirement of a CC licence is appropriate for teachers, publishers, etc, but is over-restrictive for student users who may need only to read and not to repurpose or publish.

C-SAP collections noted that the main gap was between the academic community and the OER community.

For me the most striking aspect of working on this project has been the gulf that exists between advocates of OERs and other academics. Both our survey and focus group suggest that licensing is simply not seen as an issue for most academics; the assumption remains that if the resource is used for educational purposes, copyright does not apply (C-SAP blog)

However, Oerbital interpreted this same gap as one between those with a computing background and those from the biosciences:

“Academic culture in Bioscience is not the same as computer science (perhaps less so with bioinformatics and computational biologists) so modifying and building on existing resources is less attractive and unrealistic as no significant credit is obtained” (Oerbital wiki, issues page)

Strand evidence is recorded at release | cascade | omac | collections

Academic culture

The Institutional strand of the pilot phase offered many findings around academic cultures. During phase 2 the cascade strand focus on cultural change was supported through the specific relationship afforded by the terms of Cascade funding, i.e. by one institution actively intervening to influence the culture of another towards more strategic release of open educational content. Many of the approaches adopted were mirrored by Release and OMAC strand projects who sought to engage and support change with their diverse stakeholders (sometimes within one institution, sometimes across several educational institutions or even across organisations from different sectors). These included engaging with people at all levels of the organisation to ensure that interest in OER was spread in all directions. This is an important approach for institutions where engagement of senior staff is more challenging.

Other projects followed a model based on detailed workflows and guidance, which were designed to take some of the effort out of stepping up to a more strategic approach. The original CORRE model from the pilot phase Otter project was adapted by several institutions and provided a framework to work towards.

OER involves a diverse range of expertise and this is rarely mapped to established professional roles. Many projects highlighted the need to work across traditional boundaries and the need for multi-disciplinary teams. OER expertise has been developed among academics, librarians, legal advisers, knowledge transfer teams, technical developers, content management teams, quality teams, marketing departments, etc as appropriate to their roles.

What we can say across the board is that new professional responsibilities are emerging, demanding new kinds of expertise, and that collaboration across professional boundaries is critical if sharing and release of educational content is to become embedded into academic practice.

Some of the changes envisaged by interviewees in the medium term represent large paradigm shifts in how the University designs and delivers the curriculum. 

    • separation of learning content, process and accreditation, exemplified by the use of OER and the need to signpost learners to opportunities for assessment and accreditation.
    • more specialised roles emerging, such as those providing more technical support for OER development, modelled by the Learning from WOeRK project
    • radically flexible, negotiated curricula, as envisaged by the CPD shell framework
    • marketising the support of learning in organisations (rather than marketising content or on-campus learning experiences), as envisaged by the CPD shell framework
    • all learning materials being available openly by default  (Learning from WOeRK)

Projects focused on subject discipline approaches focused on change within a community of pedagogic practice by creating opportunities for open sharing, critical reflection, and discussion. They note that this takes time and commitment, and is easier to achieve if the scholarship of teaching as reflected in OER production is institutionally recognised. This was particularly relevant for OMAC strand projects.

Traditionally, academics have developed their teaching materials as an individual effort whilst viewing research as a team and community endeavour. Peer review of teaching is also associated in many institutions with capability assessment and HR processes, even when it is documented as a development and enhancement mechanism. In our own institution, for example, the repository has traditionally been for research outputs. OER development, release and re-use challenges these distinctions.CPD4HE

This approach led to more general reflections on how learning and teaching cultures are changing, and what role (if any) OERs play within those trends.

In many ways this is a classic example of the problems of dealing with tacit knowledge; how can we represent and share such knowledge and share it? It is, arguably, this situated, embedded, tacit and ‘craft’ nature of teaching in mainstream art and design that needs to be comprehended in order to both understand and improve it. By engaging with OER creation and sharing, especially with a combination of rich media and practice based accounts as exemplified in Process.Arts we effectively open a door into this hitherto secret garden of art and design educational practice. ALTO

Sharing practice through a range of open technologies has emerged as important as sharing resources, and is having an impact on the way subjects are being studied and taught. Considerations of OER use cannot be divorced from these wider changes to disciplinary knowledge practices. CSAP subjects, for example, are being changed in radical ways by the availability of public social and research data online as well as the rise of new social/digital practices.

Student approaches to learning are usually related to disciplinary practices but the changing demographic of students is challenging teachers to reconsider traditional teaching approaches. OERs are seem as being particularly relevant and important as part of the move to enhance the learning experience of remote students, whether they are distance learners, work-based students or part-time students. Whilst the need to offer a flexible curriculum for non-traditional students can stimulate interest in the use and development of OERs projects have noted that on-campus students still have expectations of 24 hour access to content through the web and an increasing expectation that provision will be personalised the their specific needs. Many projects highlighted students as key drivers for institutions to engage with OERs.

‘In some respects, students are leading staff, departments and institutions, to the wealth of online resources’

‘We are driven by the students, they lead and we follow … to Google and YouTube for example. Digital resources are superseding staff’s lecture structure.‘ (ADM focus groups) 

Several projects offered fairly modest evidence of student engagement with OERs as content, mainly as a result of piloting of materials, but a few also highlighted students as producers of OERs – creating their own learning resources. Those projects that did involve students generally got a positive response to the concept of OER in an altruistic sense.

Students clearly are enthusiastic and encouraging of the notion of open educational resources, and have a strong sense that resources should be shared, that the resources were of good quality and they were effective learning tools.

Some of the most significant challenges for projects emerged as a result of having to engage with very different organisational cultures of their partners. Projects working closely with the NHS, Pharmaceutical industry, professional bodies, employers and publishers all had to be flexible in their approaches and expended much energy in bringing such diverse cultures together. Despite a few barriers that were insurmountable (pharmaceutical industry – SCOOTER and publishers- LEARNING LEGACIES) many projects achieved their original goals.

The considerable achievements of the project were set against what was at times a somewhat bewildering antagonism to OER.  As one Steering Group member put it.  “I felt I was between two quite different cultures.  On the one hand, HE with its attitude of sharing resources as long as it did no harm to do so and on the other,  the commercial world where sharing of resources was only undertaken if the question ‘what is in it for me?’ was answered favourably and without any undue hassle”.LEARNING LEGACIES

In terms of long term cultural change across different orqanisations projects were generally pragmatic about what they could achieve within project timescales, but many have established excellent partnerships to facilitate and encourage future cultural changes to support the use and development of OERs. Establishing a culture of sharing amongst partner institutions is seen as a potential level for ongoing engagement.

It has been asserted by participants that the O4B’s strategy of ensuring a ‘culture of sharing’ amongst the partner consortium had been most effective. This had:

    • made public the philosophy, ground work, the current state of play, and plans for the future, from each contributing HEI;
    • promoted input from across the Project Teams, highlighting common areas;
    • encouraged participant response: sharing similar experiences, asking questions for clarification, providing valuable insights;
    • highlighted approaches and potential users for feedback and testing of OERs. “ O4B

Most of the challenges projects did note were in the area of practices and identities in the relationship between academics and learners. Thus, the C-SAP expert focus group found that digital resources challenge 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. Triton found that bringing academics and students together on content creation flattened the traditional hierarchy between the two – a changed relationship that was found on the pilot phase projects also.

The C-SAP expert group noted that an expectation of sharing challenged long established academic community norms about the importance of peer review and its role in academic identity.

A concern was also raised that making materials openly available might open oneself up to negative judgement from colleagues because of the perception of putting oneself forward as a self-appointed expert without adequate peer review. These views illustrate how the topic of licensing touches on sensitive issues of professional identity “  (C-SAP expert group in final report)

Cross strand evidence

Back to Subject disciplines and themes
Forward to Organisational and institutional issues