Business cases and benefits realisation
The business case for OER varies for different types of institution and community, and even for different stakeholders within these. While projects have taken on board the need to develop effective institutional business cases, they are also mindful that different users (CPD users, informal learners, Lifelong Learners, students on programmes, teaching staff, librarians, and resource developers) each have a different case, and a different balance of costs/benefits.
Projects were referred to the JISC Good Intentions report which examined various business cases and models for sharing learning materials. The report highlighted the benefits of open sharing for different stakeholder groups and some projects used this to support their staff development activities around benefits. As suggested in this report there are questions around using business terminology to describe practice around sharing and some of the projects in the Individual Strand have also questioned the whole marketisation model, implied by the term “business case”. The ChemistryFM project, have begun to develop a critical, theoretical approach to OER which situates it within a larger social discourse on the ‘commons’ and would promote teaching for the public good and integrate the institution better into its surrounding community (physical and virtual). Even the project that might be considered the most successful in marketing terms, MMTV, evidenced tensions that might limit the marketing potential of OERs – between marketing as a business case, and the underlying ethos of the open movement – and that a marketing approach might be a barrier to inter-institutional collaboration. It is fair to say that for institutional strand projects using this terminology elicits an appropriate level of engagement from senior management. This highlights the need to adopt appropriate language for all stakeholders in the Open movement.
‘We have been surprised at the lack of critical theory being applied to the work of the OER movement, which has the potential to be a radical affront to the neo-liberalisation of Higher Education, the concept of a ‘knowledge economy’ and the exploitation of intellectual property. We intend to publish in this area in the future to attempt to bring the critical ideas around the notion of the ‘commons’, which has long received critical attention, to the work of the OER movement, which still remains largely in the domain of technologists.’ Chemistry FM Project Final report
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 subject and individual strand projects have gone some way in articulating the benefits of such an approach. Some of the Institutional strand projects focused on a particular cross institutional theme, such as employment, or focused on generic skills resources, which offers a compelling case for the benefits across the whole institution.
The Barriers and Enablers page includes a table which identifies barriers, enablers and benefits for different stakeholders. When asked to identify potential benefits of participation in the pilot programme, and of OER release in general, projects suggested the following:
Learners can benefit from:
- enhanced quality and flexibility of resources
- seeing/applying knowledge in a wider context than their course would otherwise allow, e.g. international dimension
- freedom of access (e.g. at work/home/on placement) and enhanced opportunities for learning
- support for learner-centred, self-directed, peer-to-peer and social/informal learning approaches
- skills development (e.g. numeracy) through release of generic OERs that can be re-used and recontextualised in different subject areas
- the opportunity to test out course materials before enrolling – and compare with other similar courses
The OER originator can benefit from:
- student/user feedback and open peer review
- reputational benefits, recognition
- benefits (efficiency and cultural) of collaborative approaches to teaching/learning
Other staff users can benefit from:
- availability of quality peer reviewed material to enhance their curriculum
- collaborative approaches to teaching/learning (CoPs)
- professional/peer-to-peer learning about the processes of OER release
Institutions can benefit from:
- institutional reputation and attracting potential students
- enhancing learner choice/information
- personal academic/professional reputation
- commitment to open education agenda
- support institutional repository/content agenda
- meet outreach and public engagement goal
- other public interest agenda (e.g. with content such as public health, climate change)
- make content development more efficient (especially in niche/declining subject areas)
- enhance access for e.g. work-based, international and lifelong learners
- respond to changing modes of learning e.g. peer-to-peer, learner-directed, informal
- build curriculum partnerships e.g. with industry
Employers can benefit from:
- access to repurposable content
- new potential partnerships with content providers
Note that staff on different types of contract can have a different stake in educational resources and consequently different models of cost/benefit may apply.
With regard to costs, the perception is that OER release takes longer than even experienced project teams allowed for, and that without seed funding the costs would fall disproportionately on frontline academics who currently see very little reward or recognition for their investment. Many institutional strand projects argue that it is significantly cheaper to create new content rather than spend time identifying provenance and clearing copyright. For institutions it is probably not sustainable to keep trying to open/release existing content. Projects from all strands are 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.
Models and approaches developed to release existing content will be invaluable to support ongoing release of new content. The current financial climate is discouraging innovation unless direct benefits can be proven in terms of, for example, new markets, student numbers, shared costs of development and teaching. However, the well articulated benefits in terms of institutional showcasing and attracting potential students may prove attractive to institutional managers.
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. The 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.
All of these issues are discussed in more detail for each strand on the following pages: