Pedagogy and end use issues

Stakeholders and types of OER

it is our hope that others within the community will join us researching aspects of open education that have begun to be discussed within the community: How OE students create self-directed learning goals, how OE students persist in the process of self-directed study and achieve their learning outcomes, models of pedagogy for OE and building and sustaining communities of learners within OE. (openSpace final report)

The primary focus of the programme has been on release of materials, rather than on use. Hence evidence of demand and use is lacking, and is seen as a major gap in understanding. How OE students create self-directed learning goals, how OE students persist in the process of self-directed study and achieve their learning outcomes, models of pedagogy for OE and building and sustaining communities of learners within OE are all areas that need substantial further research. Some incidental evidence has emerged, however, in the course of the projects. Projects have been collating evidence of the demand for OERs from different stakeholders, including CPD users, casual/informal learners, enrolled and potentially enrolled students, teaching staff, and of different types of re-use (e.g. mediated by teachers/direct by learners, stand-alone/re-embedded etc). They have been tracking downloads and views using stats from third party hosts (iTunes U, YouTube, etc), and with Google analytics a particularly popular method.

OERs released through the programme have included a wide variety of types: Online and podcast lectures, lecture notes, audio files, ppt slides, worksheets, Open source software; tutorial materials, videos, lectures, notes, reading lists, online assessment tools, student stories, learning outcomes and objectives; course outlines; workshops; web resources; self test quizzes; essay revision; exam materials, questions/answers, multiple choice questions, self-study assignments, guidance, RLOs, simulations.

Discoverability and usage

Academic curricula vary … and this may compromise the usability of [our] resources… In an attempt to limit this effect, a matrix of key themes within the resources has been developed’ allowing potential users to identify relevant resources separately from the original pedagogic context. (C-Change final report)

Discoverability is a theme that underlies a number of discussions about end users. Approaches adopted by the projects include using web2.0 methods to “push” users towards materials, search engine optimisation and metadata, syndication to place materials near user communities, and grouping related materials into sets.

There is a reasonable amount of evidence that academics like disaggregated materials, that separate tasks and resources, so that they can pick up on separate assets and incorporate them into new learning materials or activities – especially high-value assets such as images, video, simulations. Such assets need to be small enough to be used without editing.

Having lots of small ‘bite-sized’ materials is just what I need from your [CORE-Materials] website for enhancing my lectures and tutorials… (quote from CORE-materials final report)

However, for academics, it can be very helpful to have either a description of how the asset has been designed and used previously, or an example of the asset embedded into an integrated module. For learners, there is evidence from the individual strand that situating the assets in a coherent whole aids discovery, and tasks need to be linked to resources. However the openSpace project found that independent learners did not want to be strongly guided through materials, and implemented a more flexible navigation structure that enabled easy movement back and forth. This runs contrary to a generally held assumption that learners as end-users will prefer resources in which their learning path is carefully guided, and/or the learning outcomes are clear.

Many OERs are aimed at multiple user groups. At the same time, a number of projects have noted the importance of placing materials near the intended user communities. Syndication of materials through RSS has generally been the chosen solution to this problem, allowing subject and skills communities to harvest a selection of OER material and present it in within or near their preferred systems.

The question of ‘level’ was raised by several projects. A number of projects have pointed out that introductory or generalist level materials benefit from a wider number of potential users, but C-Change note that advanced materials can add more value because of their scarcity and specialist nature. ChemistryFM noted that videos relating to theoretical concepts received the highest number of views, but were less highly rated than those showing how to perform calculations.


The pedagogic approaches evidenced in the materials range from the didactic (often as videos or podcasts), through social constructivist, to a situative or community of practice approach. These different approaches entail different usage patterns, different forms of pedagogic guidance, and different technical decisions.

The second consideration was the collaborative student project area…. Colaab… was determined to be the optimal solution…. With Colaab, students can create, collaborate and discuss a wide range of resources from images and documents, to video and webpage screen grabs. They can interact by annotating, commenting and responding to resources in real time. (openSpace final report)

The most immediately striking difference may be in their different relationship to their user communities: producers of didactic OERs may encourage user feedback, review, ratings, and use web2.0 to raise awareness; while doing these, producers of social constructivist of situative materials are even more concerned with enabling the learner to contribute to the materials, generally through web2.0 technologies which become integral to a dynamic, changing resource.

Most projects have provided pedagogic information with resources, whether in the form of enhanced/rich metadata, descriptive comments, a ‘wrapper’, ‘back page’, or ‘passport’ incorporated into the resource, or a separate structured document linked to the resource(s) described. C-SAP in particular described the focus of their project as:“sharing and re-interpreting practice around materials, as much as making materials themselves available for sharing and re-use” . However, some projects took the opposite view and were deliberately agnostic as to how resources could best be reused in new contexts, relying on minimal but consistent metadata to support discovery.

Provision of feedback and assessment for users of OERs has not generally been addressed. The openSpace project, however, has explicitly built peer assessment and critique into its dynamic materials, providing guidelines for users. More research in this area is needed.

Involving users

encouraging students to be producers, rather than simply consumers, is core to our institution’s teaching and learning strategy. (ChemistryFM final report)

User testing by the openSpace project has shown the importance, in providing pedagogic information, of using terms that are familiar to the general public (eg. not “pedagogy”) and of consistency in describing the context of a lesson’s materials (eg. don’t interchange terms like “session” and “unit”). A number of projects in the individual strand have been working directly with learners either as producers, users, or repurposers of OERs. In some cases this has been part of a deliberate community of practice approach to teaching, and in others as part of user testing or feedback. They have noted a flattening of the traditional teacher-learner hierarchy, to a more equal community of peers. They have also noted that many independent learners want to dip in, just to resources that are of immediate relevance to them, rather than to follow a set path through a unit of study. Projects see this as a more learner-centric approach, that has implications for the way they structure their OERs.

Learner repurposing is an integral part of the pedagogic approach of some projects, but on others raises a tension between the integrity of the resource, which is often a priority for providers (particularly those seeking reputational benefits), and its repurposability (a priority for learners/end users). Where repurposing is integral to the approach, projects have generally provided brief guidance for learners on rights clearance and licensing, and on the technical skills needed. Other aspects of OER release, such as metadata and accessibility, are less well covered, though ease of managing these has figured in projects’ decisions about what software to use to enable learner contributions.

In some projects, such as ChemistryFM and OpenExeter, pedagogic approach has been a driver for production of OERs, rather than vice versa. There is conflicting evidence on student willingness to release their work as OERs. Some projects have found students very ready to contribute materials, as part of their course, for pay, or entirely voluntarily. The Otter project, however, reports a third of students as saying they would not be willing to turn materials such as lecture notes into OERs and share them with other students.

‘It was felt that OER has a significant part to play in co-created activity, getting away from the model of the University as producers and students as consumers towards students being co-producers.’ OpenExeter Project Final Report.

These issues are discussed in more detail in strand pages:
Individual Strand – Pedagogy And End Use Issues
Subject Strand – Pedagogy And End-use Issues
Institutional Strand – Pedagogy And End-use Issues

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