This page summarises some of the key lessons from the programme. More detailed discussion is available on the following pages


Key Lessons

Practice Change

Evidence is accumulating that teachers do share content informally, but do not necessarily consider IPR, or share resources openly. Thus they are engaging in some of the practices associated with OER, but they do not necessarily recognise OER terminology, and in asking about use/reuse of OER we may be asking the wrong questions.

Thus the question that is emerging as important to OER practice is what difference does it make to practices of use/reuse and sharing, that the resources are “open”?

Altruism and reputation enhancement continue, as in the OER pilot phase, to be major motivations to release open resources. However, a new motivation emerged, that of preserving legacy materials, saving resources that would otherwise be lost. While the current economic climate may promote efficiency as a motive for open release and sharing, the costs involved, and government encouragement of a competitive HE culture, mitigated against this.

Projects have described IPR issues, cultural practice and traditions, (lack of) necessary expertise and, to a lesser extent technological challenges as significant barriers to the release of open content. Given the evident culture of informal sharing, we conclude that the barriers are around the time and expertise required to develop high quality, accessible content that meets the additional quality criteria for open release, and anxieties around the additional visibility accorded to open materials.

While community trust and positive recognition are clear motivators, the lack of such trust and the fear of negative recognition – content ‘not being good enough,’ being thought to be putting oneself forward by releasing material that has not been peer-reviewed, or laying the producer open to legal scrutiny – are barriers to making release of open sustainable.

While various motives promote release of open content, motivation to use open resources, is very low. When other resources are freely available for re-use and teacher awareness of IPR is low there is little incentive to use OER, especially if a google search finds relevant resources more easily than does a search of an OER repository.

It is possible that increased awareness of open content may lead to changes in sharing practice and use/re-use of learning resources, for example restricting searches to openly licensed content, looking for content via subject and institutional repositories first, or ensuring that materials released to a virtual learning environment conform to the higher standards required for open release.

There is evidence that the openness of resources is promoting wider stakeholder engagement and community and network building. Collaborative practice has emerged as important during this funding phase. Projects drew stakeholders in by using them as expert groups and team working. Increasingly projects have talked about the importance of broader activities around OERs –  community networking, curriculum development and student engagement.

Cross disciplinary approaches are beginning to have an impact at an institutional level and reveal a new benefit of open content – that it is easily shared and co-constructed across existing boundaries. Several projects comment that working across boundaries to develop project outcomes (business/community/academy, staff/consultants, students/teachers) has been one of the most radical aspect of their experience and has the potential to change practice more widely

Several project teams put energy into developing a shared understanding within their institutions, subject and sector communities of how learning and teaching might be supported by open educational resources. Some went so far as to consider what an ‘open pedagogy‘ would look like, while others reconsidered their content development practices, considering explicitly how resources might be used in different ways and described for, different contexts.

Development and release issues

As noted above, wider stakeholder communities and collaborative practices emerged during this phase of the programme, and this had implications for projects’ technical choices.  Platform choice emerged as one of the most interesting technical aspects of this phase; a significant amount of thought about how different audiences might use OERs was evident, with many projects depositing in several places to present materials at different levels of granularity and to support varied contexts of use for different users (teachers/students). Publishing on multiple platforms is likely to improve Google rankings and so may be a contributing factor to this development. Due to these efforts it is likely that the OERs released during this phase will be accessible to, and used by, a wide range of audiences/groups.

Frameworks to support development and release proved very valuable to some projects.  The CORRE framework developed by the OTTER project in the pilot phase was used by five projects to integrate OER development into the workflow of existing academic support teams, and this proved a highly successful change strategy.  The TIGER project developed a quality framework aimed at helping health and social care professionals to understand how OER have been developed.

The collections strand projects aimed to collect static and dynamic collections of resources to provide a critical mass of materials in thematic areas.  But they found their ability to collect automatically severely limited by the lack of consistent metadata for describing OERs, the variety of repository APIs, and the low visibility of licensing information. The solution adopted by most projects was to restrict their collections to custom searches of a severely limited number of repositories whose resources were known to be CC-licensed.

Cascade strand projects noted that choice of search engine affected which resources were found and used, while collections projects found that their users expected searches to be “Google-like” in their ease of use, personalisation, and production of relevant results. Users expressed frustration with the search functionality of many OER repositories. They were also disappointed in the scarcity of relevant OERs, a finding echoed by the release strand PORSCHE project. Most of the collections projects decided to include “grey” or “non” OERs to get round this problem – while clearly labelling them so that their non-licensed status was clear.

Assuring the academic and pedagogic quality of dynamically collected OERs also emerged as an issue, particularly where the institutional branding of the collection site might mislead users about the origin of the OERs themselves. Both for the reputation of the institution, and to inform user choice, making clear the original attribution and quality-checked (or not checked) status of OERs in the collection was a clear user need.

Projects used a range of newly developed tools from the OER IPR Support project to address IPR concerns. The Risk calculator emerged as the most used tool across a range of sectors (300-400 visitors a week). These tools and the support offered have had a significant impact on project teams, particularly those new to OER. Projects were aware at the start that IPR challenges would be an issue but often had not anticipated how they might solve them.

An issue emerging during this phase included uncertainties around the meaning of commercial use and the impact of this relating to CC license choice. John Roberston from JISC CETIS has generated some interesting discussion around this in relation to choice of CC licenses in his technical synthesis blog post) and Amber Thomas, JISC provides an  excellent description of issues realting to licensing for phase 2 of ukoer in the ‘Importance of licensing section’ of her OER turn blog post

Strategic positioning of open licensing within HE institutions proved to be very challenging and depends of institutional cultures and structures. However open licences can contribute to the sustainability of materials as they surface them within an institution. Projects found that legal advice needed to be tailored for different institutions, making general advice insufficient in most cases and indicating that ongoing specialist support is highly important.

Cultural Considerations

The broadening of project activities with an increasing range of stakeholders, noted above, was seen as significant in changing culture.  Cross-institutional working fostered culture change through sharing of resources and practice, whilst external stakeholder engagement (for example, employers, NHS bodies) had a significant impact of cultures of the various partners. 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. Work with these groups led to significantly increased understanding and some excellent outputs, such as the Consent Commons paper – developed from a need to create a framework for considerations around patient and practitioner information.

New partnerships and collaborative experiences were significant for both subject communities and institutions. The cascade projects, and several of the Release and OMAC projects sought to engage and support change with their diverse stakeholders. Engaging with people at all levels of the organisation to ensure that interest in OER was spread in all directions emerged as 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.

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. However, this is not necessarily universal across all disciplines. While arts and design subjects with cultural practices of exhibition, collaborative studio spaces and the need to share tacit knowledge (often not written) may seem particularly well suited to open approaches, sensitivities to the commercial value of artistic works proved 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.

In some disciplines, 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. Social science 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.

Many projects emphasised 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. 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.

Phase 2 projects were increasingly aware, also, of students as stakeholders, and many highlighted that students are key drivers for institutions to engage with OERs. 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 to their specific needs.

Institutional Issues

Institutional readiness for OER can become evident through strategic level approaches and senior buy-in. Projects’ view that strategic vision was an essential factor was reflected in attention to institutional strategies and policies. Generally it was felt that strategic buy-in could ensure the development of an infrastructure to enable staff engagement and contribute to longer-term sustainability. Ripple found it important to win over key champions at a high level, even before people in technical and professional roles. ADM likewise targeted course leaders as champions and conduits of information.

Alongside a strategic ‘top-down’ vision was the notion of institutional readiness at ‘ground level’.  Projects described open educational practices emerging at an individual or departmental level, or being embedded into professional activities in a low-key way. Evidence of open sharing cultures are emerging across institutions and communities, with project activities providing the impetus and sustaining activities to support these.

The notion of cascading OER knowledge, experience and expertise was strong with a whole strand dedicated to this approach, and collaborative partnerships and networked communities were seen by all strands as enabling and supporting change.  However, projects questioned whether the concept of supporting change by “cascading” knowledge was valid or useful; Cascade institutions regarded their partner institutions not as less developed but as different – and therefore as offering opportunities to discuss, enhance and test approaches to OER.

Findings from this phase confirm those from the phase 1 institutional strand, that there are different cultures of openness at different educational institutions. This is not as simple as a single dimension from closed to open: rather there are many different ways in which institutions can support open educational practices and start to move towards more open policies in relation to educational resources. Projects have identified a range of factors which need an institutional approach or at the very least consideration at an institution-wide level, as they closely link to both high-level strategy and policy as well as process and operational management issues. Such factors include approaches to content management, curriculum design, institutional reputation, and staff roles and support.

In some senses, it is easier to sustain support mechanisms (such as repositories, quality assurance processes or curriculum design practices) than maintaining and encouraging staff engagement at an institution-wide level. Staff awareness, engagement and support for ongoing staff involvement was seen by most projects as crucial and, as in the pilot phase, staff development and training (capacity building), reward and recognition and maintaining communities of practice emerged as important sustaining activities.

Tying in with institution-wide initiatives did sometimes present challenges due to delays, management changes and as the sector responded to economic conditions. Closure of HE Academy Subject Centres, in particular, has had significant impact as they often provided the vision and infrastructure to support community endeavours, and the impending loss of both expertise and hosting mechanisms is likely to have long-term implications for OER collections and ongoing community approaches to development, release and use.

Two approaches emerged in relation to institutional policies – those who chose to adapt existing policies (which emerged as a strong preference for pilot phase institutional strand projects) and those that chose to develop new policies. The difference here lies in the nature of the policy. Adapting existing IPR or learning, teaching and assessment policies, where they already exist, can be important for gaining buy-in of interested stakeholders, and can indicate a sense of more gentle (and less threatening) change than a new policy. In contrast the development of a new special OER policy can act as a powerful signal that the institution is committed to the concept and to providing appropriate resource to support implementation.

Institutional issues in collecting together and sharing OER across institutional boundaries fall into two broad categories: legal and technical. These categories are impacted by institutions’ overarching concerns with quality, trust, and liability. Thus, for example, the Delores project noted that licensing issues may not be due simply to lack of institutional awareness of IPR, but more to lack of will, or caution regarding IPR. Legal responsibility is a big issue for institutions, especially where reputations are at stake, and presented barriers to cross-institutional collections.

The collections strand projects were creating both static and dynamic collections. In the light of this experience, two projects, C-SAP collections and Delores, argued that in the long run the dynamic collections would be more sustainable and take less resource to maintain than static collections.

Impacts and Benefits

In assessing impacts and benefits, three aspects can be distinguished:

  1. impact of being involved in an OER project
  2. Impact of OER release on the various stakeholders
  3. Impact of OER use – some of this refers to potential rather than actual use.

Most projects can offer only early evidence on the second aspect, and hypotheses about potential impact for aspect 3, due to the timescale of the project. Their indicative findings should be cross-referenced with the more detailed  research study from the TALL team at Oxford University.

Projects identified positive impacts for a range of different participants (academic staff, service staff, academic managers, students, stakeholders in other sectors) which were a direct result of involvement with an OER project, particularly increased awareness around open educational practices and increased opportunities or collaboration across institutions, sectors and subject disciplines. Projects also celebrated increased literacies of staff involved in projects, particularly in relation to IPR and technical issues. Of note is the fact that several staff saw engagement with OER as having impact on their pedagogic practice and enhanced quality of their own learning resources. Such cultural impacts were supported and enabled by impacts on infrastructure and processes, such as enhanced policies and documentation for dealing with IPR, enhanced models and workflows for developing learning materials for open release, and technical developments including new repositories, repository and development tools.

Engaging with OERs and open practices can challenge existing processes around curriculum design and delivery and support transformation. The impact lies around changing attitudes to content, away from viewing content as constitutive of the curriculum and towards viewing it as an artefact of the learning, research and knowledge-sharing process which can be re-inscribed into new learning situations as and when appropriate. Several projects revealed evidence of staff attitudes towards ‘their’ content changing as they engage in the process of release. The ADM and C-SAP projects devoted time to developing a shared understanding within the subject community of what an ‘open pedagogy‘ would look like, and C-SAP suggested that the following aspects might be considered: closed – open | private – public | embedded – free | dependent – independent | prejudiced – neutral | contextualised – decontextualised | messy / dirty – clean |  crude – refined.

Stakeholder engagement in the projects has been valuable for community building and open exchange or sharing as much as for the impact of the released open resources. The emerging communities, and strengthened existing communities, are seen as important in relation to sustainability, although Delores sounded a note of caution, pointing out that community-building can also present sustainability problems as allowing user contributions on a web2.0 site has ongoing maintenance implications.

In the learning and teaching area also, a sense emerged of activities around the OERs being as important as the OERs themselves and their potential to encourage ‘pedagogically infomed use‘ (SWAP) – ie good learning and teaching practice (open practices). How OERs are integrated into curriculum processes can depend on the way they have been developed or presented. Projects generally produced OERs for a particular subject discipline area, sector or student group and this impacted on intended use.

Generally more use is anticipated for some of the disaggregated resources but although many projects ensured that the OERs were usable in a disaggregated way they also felt the need to provide additional activity around the resource, in the form of pedagogic support or intention.

A focus on students as stakeholders emerged, and the PORSCHE project highlighted a converse impact – that of student expectation on OER programmes as their use of open resources continues to increase.

Student engagement was varied and reflected three approaches which ran across strands:

  • ‘Content approach’ – existing content repackaged
  • ‘Connoisseur approach’ – students as reviewers
  • ‘Creative empowerment approach’ – students as producers and actively critiquing peer OERs

The evidence for student use is limited due to the time constraints of the projects. Most evidence comes from early piloting of materials and their input during OER development. This has helped to raise awareness with students about OERs, IPR issues and course materials. In some cases it encouraged engagement resulting in student materials being added to OER collections.

The CPD focus of the OMAC strand focuses on a special group of students – those who are teachers – so the impact on this group has been considerably different. Inclusion of OER release and use has been incorporated/embedded into formal teacher training – an approach advocated by many pilot programme projects. This student group is likely to take OER practice forward into their own teaching, and projects anticpate significant contribution to future generation and reviewing of content. OMAC strand project OERs were developed by and for a very specific audience and the process itself significantly engaged the audience. Their proposed use to support teaching practice is expected to have continued impact within the institutions involved. The strand also produced many generic OERs which will impact across subject disciplines, although many identify requests to make them discipline specific. Incorporation of OERs into formal institutional teacher training/support mechanisms is likely to result in continued use and development of resources.

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