Cultural issues

Cultural issues have been identified as significant in relation to people sharing learning and teaching resources in a variety of previous studies (CD LORTRUST DRSharing e-learning contentGood Intentions report). Different institutions, sectors and subject communities may all have their own ‘established practices’ around sharing practice and learning materials. Academics may feel more connected to the culture of their subject discipline or Community of Practice than to any Institutional culture. It could be argued that there is no such thing as an institutional culture as many sub-cultures exist, often related to different institutional roles, with traditions and approaches that can be more persuasive than strategy and policy documents. Some of these traditions or practices can result in slow take up of new approaches or ideas. The Open movement in particular challenges people and groups to change their existing practice and patchy development is quite likely in large institutions with many sub-cultures.

‘A key message that arose from the discussion is that OER has a broader potential for learning and teaching than simply making resources publicly available. It provides an opportunity for introducing students to critical thinking, appreciation of copyright / IPR / plagiarism and general information literacy. However, the culture within the disciplines towards OER is still not at a place where it is broadly accepted as a good thing to be involved with.’ C-change Project Evaluation Report

Staff perceptions, expectations and understandings around OERs have been a significant focus of activity for all strands. An institution-wide approach to staff development and support can help to address some of these cultural barriers and encourage OER release and use, but some institutions may choose to mandate such activities to move forward. The subject consortia approach uses established Communities of Practice (CoPs) to encourage take up and produce resources to support others to engage with, use and develop their own resources.

The degree of sharing would appear to be influenced by how proactive different communities are, and the perceived quality of the OERs available within the collective. Subject area also influences openness, as does the extent of collaboration (e.g. international collaborations can expose communities to different norms, values and practices). Some subject communities are already sharing teaching resources, particularly around specific sub-disciplines and topics. Norms and values may bind more closely at this level than the whole subject or whole programme. The research culture of a topic/discipline area and the educational culture of a teaching team may be relevant to how openness is regarded.

Individuals and topic communities that have historically been most active in creating learning materials, particularly from multiple media resources, have often operated under the radar of official IPR channels and indeed regard IPR and other forms of standardisation (accessibility etc) as the enemies of creativity.

There is a real need to explore the ethics of OER release by UK HEIs in the context of a global market for education. The programme team has been surprised by the degree of concern over potential negative effects of OER release by developed economies and education systems. Some projects have international partners and there is an appetite to explore the international dimensions and implications of the programme. Two different models of international partnership are evident among the projects: donation, and experience sharing. There is also a need to explore the different attitudes to OER release within HE, FE, industry & the professional bodies. In many cases the pilot projects have been defining the norms for their institution and community, and need to do so with awareness of their potential influence, and transparency about their motives. It should be noted that OER release is not always about sharing and could be much more driven by institutional marketing concerns or even individual reputation enhancement.

Institution-wide implementation of technologies can act as a catalyst for cultural change. There is an accelerating trend towards the use of institutional repositories for learning and teaching materials, providing an opportunity to engage with openness as an issue, and encouraging change in attitudes and practice. The use of open source VLEs has also emerged as an opportunity to move institutions away from a close system mentality for learning and teaching content. The large scale adoption of non-institutionally owned technologies by all strands to enhance discoverability of OERs illustrates a significant movement – one that institutions need to be able to embrace and support.

Staff willingness to be open with ‘their’ content can be triggered by specific events such as course review, adapting content for new partnerships or modes of delivery, dealing with larger student numbers, etc. Marketisation of content is a trend that can act both for and against open sharing. On the one hand it has led some institutions to make it difficult for individual academics to release their content under open license. On the other hand, increased engagement with web 2.0 technologies as marketing opportunities can strengthen the case for opening content, making the learning experience (and/or accreditation) the unique selling point.

Whilst, inevitably, discussion around cultural issues has focused on barriers, much of the practice has been focused on facilitating change in cultures, of individuals, communities and institutions. This has been supported by adaptions to institutional strategies and policies, dialogue with staff and collation of staff perceptions and practice, staff development and guidance, articulating benefits such as reward and recognition, including OER use and development in performance review and accredited training, and supporting teachers and learners through community forums and activities. See also the Barriers And Enablers page.

‘ We are building in OER awareness into our Pg Certificate in Professional Practice, our development course for staff new to university teaching. Hopefully this will help to establish a new norm where active use of OERs is seen to be a first port of call when designing and developing new courses. We are also building generation of OERs into our DPR (Development and Performance Review) process to give them status and their originators recognition.’ OCEP Project final report

Cultural drivers for greater openness include:

  • Greater use of open licensing and recognition of the benefits of like-for-like sharing
  • Good understanding of and support for IPR within the institution and/or community
  • Open practices and open licenses being recognised in Institutional policies
  • Progressive release/staged openness, allowing originators to choose who to share with and restrict sharing to ‘those they know’ in the first instance
  • Exemplar OERs from peers
  • Private and secure space to engage in frank discussions about concerns
  • Formal reward and recognition systems for sharing quality content.
  • Linking OERs to research outcomes; linking the scholarship of open research and open teaching

Cultural barriers to openness include:

  • Tendency to use third-party content and commercial content (e.g. from text-books) as core to course materials
  • Risks and perceived risks associated with IPR and with open peer review (e.g. plagiarism, defamation, flaming, spamming, bullying)
  • Existing habits of managing course materials e.g. control by course/module leader, uploading to closed VLE
  • time and how this is currentlly allocated to tasks

OER projects have had greatest impact where institutions and communities were already collaborating on some aspects of educational content, and where good working relationships among the relevant staff already existed. OER partnerships can be difficult to get off the ground but once established can help to spread open practices rapidly as institutions/departments share best practice.

All of these issues are discussed in more detail for each strand on the following pages:

Individual Strand – Cultural Issues

Subject Strand – Cultural Issues

Institutional Strand – Cultural Issues

Back to Business cases and benefits realisation
Forward to Roles, rewards and division of labour