Key lessons

Summary of key lessons

General lessons

  • The three strands of funding allowed different approaches, benefit cases and technical solutions to be trialled in a genuinely diverse mix of contexts. Credible benefit cases and sustainability strategies have been put forward in each of the three cases.
  • Institutions and communities are becoming aware of the need to strategically manage content, and in some cases this is being done around an open content agenda.
  • Creative Commons licensing and release to an open repository is an achievable goal for the majority of learning and teaching content developed in UK HEIs.
  • However, there remains a risk-averse culture around IPR and the possible impact of repurposed resources on institutional and individual reputations.
  • Sustainability of OER depends on embedding open practices into institutional policies and services, and on encouraging open sharing in existing communities such as subject networks.
  • Further development is needed to make open repositories more attractive to contributors and end users.

Approaches to OER release

  • Preparing existing materials for open release is extremely time-consuming if third-party rights are involved or if significant technical retrofitting is required. Many projects recommended avoiding this route.
  • The ideal approach to release is through an integrated approach to open content whereby all content is developed with sharing and open release in mind. (see also ‘pedagogy and end-use’)
  • The best approach to release of OER will vary in context, depending on:
    • benefits model (see benefits)
    • attitudes of stakeholders to the risks and benefits of OER
    • sustainability beyond project funding
    • existing policies and practices
    • availability of support and expertise, especially technical and legal
    • available hosting solutions
  • There is a clear model emerging of resources being deposited in a local repository (institutional or subject centre) where trust and community engagement can be built, then surfaced through syndication to general open repositories such as JorumOpen, Merlot, and to third-party sites such as iTunesU, YouTube, flickr, scribd, slideshare.
  • Issues to be aware of in using multiple host sites include syndicating metadata, version control, updating/take-down policies, ongoing management, and how resources are described and exposed.
  • Building communities around open learning and teaching resources is as important for supporting release as it is for encouraging reuse. A community repository approach has been successful at promoting shared development and the release of well-described, usable resources that meet known user needs.
  • Resource release should be accompanied by awareness raising, e.g. via blogs, RSS feeds, workshops, publications and presentations, to encourage re-use and further contributions.
  • Projects have demonstrated that many types of material can be released as open content. *Complex, interactive and multimedia materials are expensive to retrofit for release but can be developed with open release in mind (e.g. simulations, reusable learning objects).
  • Bite-sized resources and simple assets may be preferable to encourage repurposing. *However those seeking reputational benefits may prefer to release more sophisticated materials, and some academics want to maintain the pedagogic integrity of content. *Solutions are to release the resources in an integrated form alongside the component assets, or to release a structuring element e.g. a presentation or wiki, with links to the component assets.
  • Similarly, repositories can be used to support collaboration on content development through sharing of partial or unfinished materials, but this is only likely in a share-and-share-alike scenario with known others.

Developing, managing and sharing OERs

  • As noted, design for open release is much more cost effective than repurposing existing content.
  • The effective strategic management of OERs is closely associated with a strategic approach to technology-enhanced learning, which includes awareness and protocols for developing reusable content. The OER lifecycle should be managed as part of a more general lifecycle of content development and use in a technology-enhanced learning and teaching context.
  • OER management should be designed to support effective curriculum design and delivery. *Monitoring the benefits to learners over time (e.g. enabling more learners to access quality resources, freeing staff time to support learners responsively) should be built into the management process.
  • Tagging resources using metadata is essential for discoverability and can be done in a reasonably light touch manner.
  • Describing resources in more pedagogically meaningful ways e.g. using a pedagogical ‘wrapper’ or richer metadata scheme (sometimes with keywords or a taxonomy) can support re-use more effectively but is resource-intensive (cf. CD-LOR final report, 2007
  • Success depends on good dialogue between all potential stakeholders, especially between potential contributors and users, and between staff involved in the legal, technical and pedagogical aspects of release. Most valuable have been dialogues between institutions about content development in a specific subject or topic area; and dialogues within institutions about OER policy and practice.

Expertise, roles, rewards

  • Some of the expertise required to support OER release is very specialised. Several current roles will have to adapt, across different departments and units, and/or multi-competent OER specialists will have to be developed or appointed.
  • On the other hand, engagement with OER by frontline staff can be low key and congruent with existing practices such as preparing materials for the VLE, sharing teaching materials with colleagues. Materials can be released in standard formats, even if (e.g.) pdf files are not ideal for repurposing.
  • Learning technologists have the potential to become the multi-competent OER specialists required by institutions, but will need engaging and supporting in their own development if they are to play this role effectively.
  • There are currently very few career benefits to engaging in OER. Direct professional rewards are not what motivate the majority of contributors.
  • Use of OERs tends to be associated with innovative approaches to learning and teaching, for example with a focus on developing information skills rather than providing information. This demands new skills on the part of staff as well as students.

Business cases and benefits realisation

  • The pilot programme identified four broad credible benefits cases for releasing OERs.
    • Individual reputation
    • Institutional reputation
    • Share-and-share-alike
    • Capacity building for content
  • Business cases for OER depend on the priorities of the institution and/or community. Work to develop sound, sustainable business cases continues at institutions involved in the pilot programme.
  • Sound business cases are often necessary to attract senior management support, but it is also important to situate OERs within a discourse of social value, and to consider the public interest, widening participation, and broader pedagogical benefits of access to educational content.
  • Professional bodies and commercial partners (not publishers) were relatively easy to persuade of the business case for open release.
  • Long-term benefits of open release for learners, originators, teaching staff, institutions, employers and other community stakeholders are explored on the benefits page. The pilot programme can provide only limited evidence of long-term benefit.
  • Shorter-term benefits of involvement in an open release initiative have been more robustly established. These include:
    • Better collaboration among the different staff involved
    • Opportunities to improve learning and teaching, locally or personally
    • Opportunities to share content development tasks
    • Changes to institutional attitude, policy and support structures around OER
    • Enhanced knowledge and expertise
  • Funding cuts may lead to a new focus on saving costs through shared development and reuse of content. However, any savings are likely to be at larger scales and over longer timeframes than we have been able to study through the pilot programme.

Cultural issues

  • OER work touches on significant cultural issues, especially around trust, perceived benefits/risks to reputation, perceived benefits/costs of collaboration, and the value attached to different aspects of academic identity.
  • Academic staff may feel more connected to the culture of their subject/profession/research area, or to their particular role (e.g. librarian, e-learning champion, teaching fellow) than to their institution.
  • However, institutional culture acts in profound ways via the policy, infrastructure and support environment.
  • The degree of sharing in communities is influenced by prior cultures and histories of collaborative development, by attitudes to innovation, and by the perceived quality of the OERs available.
  • The research culture of a topic/sub-discipline area and the educational culture of a teaching team are relevant to how openness is regarded.
  • International and cross-sector collaborations can expose communities to different norms, values and practices.
  • There is a real need to explore the ethics of OER release in the context of a global market for education and to explore any potentially negative effects of UK OER release on emerging economies and education systems.

Legal issues

  • There is a need for institutional policy to catch up with the realities of digital media, which are blurring the boundaries between creators and re-users of resources and challenging existing IPR arrangements.
  • Most institutions focus their legal support on clearing copyright and managing IPR. There is a good argument for focusing on the use of Creative Commons licensing instead, as a way of making a positive contribution to open access.
  • Institutions have a range of policies on who owns the IPR to learning and teaching materials. Although in practice most institutions were prepared to clear materials for release, at least on an ad hoc basis, official policies often remain unclear and this contributes to staff reticence about releasing content. Who owns student-authored content is a particularly grey area.
  • Institutions have variable levels of support for copyright clearance. It is essential that the administration of IPR and copyright clearance is streamlined and as far as possible removed from frontline staff. Lack of support makes staff reluctant to release materials for fear of bearing personal responsibility for any infringement.
  • A robust take-down policy and procedure can help to allay fears around IPR.

Technical and hosting issues

  • The pilot programme has made very significant progress in exploring the interface between web 2.0 and repository solutions to hosting open content.
  • A wide range of approaches to metadata, tagging, community service, hosting, etc have been piloted and evaluated, as summarised by the CETIS report.
  • Web2.0 sites are at different stages of development and inconsistent in the media they will support (e.g. Flash animations), the terms of hosting, and the openness of access. There is an issue of resource ownership in relation to some or all third party web sites, and they can be time consuming to use effectively. However, they remain popular for encouraging the widest access to content.
  • Repositories are also at different stages of development in the functionality they support. A wide range of recommendations have been forwarded to the JorumOpen team to support development of the national open repository service.
  • Institutional repositories are being strategically promoted: therefore it may be difficult for future OER initiatives to avoid using institutional repositories as the main deposit location.
  • Future development in this area may need to focus on:
    • the feasibility of aggregating resources from different host sites and with heterogenous descriptions
    • exchanging information between web 2.0 applications and repositories
    • reconciling the different technical requirements of developers, contributors, managers and users of OERs

Quality issues

  • Open content requires somewhat different quality considerations, arising from the delivery medium (typically online) and the self-directed mode of study.
  • When content is quality enhanced for open release – typically by enhancing its accessibility, interoperability, discoverability, usability and re-usability – its quality is generally enhanced. *However, there is an ongoing perception that good quality teaching does not make extensive use of ‘other people’s resources’.
  • Teachers and students both need additional skills to assess the quality of open content and its relevance to their needs.

Pedagogy and end-use issues

(This was not a primary focus of evaluation)

  • Pedagogical rationale, context, intended use etc can be included with open educational resources in a variety of ways, e.g. in a rich metadata schema, incorporated into the ‘text’ of the resource as a front or back ‘page’, alongside the resource in a repository, in the form of contextualising comments and reviews in a community repository.
  • OERs can also be released and re-used with little or no pedagogic information.
  • A wide range of learning and teaching approaches can give rise to valuable OERs for release: these may or may not be used in similar learning and teaching contexts.
  • Much more needs to be known about how learners use open materials, and about how teachers re-use them for their own purposes.
  • Open educational resources need to be approached by institutions in an integrated way. Open release, repurposing and re-use need to be designed into content. Contexts in which content is re-used need to support the review, enhancement, further development and re-release of that content in a virtuous circle of development.

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