Individual Strand synthesis – Isobel Falconer and Karen Smith
Table of Contents
Individual strand projects proposed a number of potential business cases for OER release and sharing: financial, based on the marketing power of OERs, or on the provision of OER expertise to public and professional bodies; enhancing the reputation of the institution or individual; synergies with other institutional priorities, such as reducing environmental impact; as a buffer against the decline of specific topics; improved quality of learning materials; and enabling a learner-centric approach and self-directed lifelong learning. Their experience has provided some evidence for the validity of all these cases.
However, the whole marketisation model, implied by the term “business case” is called into question by the ChemistryFM project, who have begun to develop a critical, theoretical approach to OER (the “Teaching in Public Framework”) 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.
The projects all cite benefits from collaborative working, within and between institutions, between academics, learning technologists, legal and technical advisors, between institutions and professional bodies, but particularly between teachers and learners, whether these are students within the institution or informal learners. There is little evidence, so far, for such collaborations increasing efficiency, but widespread evidence for them enhancing learning materials and the beginnings of a cultural change and increased OER capacity.
Two projects have established links with international partners, and evidence different models of internationalisation: donation of OER materials (EVOLUTION), and a more dialogic, two-way sharing of experience (openSpace).
Most individual projects are engaging directly with informal learners, making their materails easily accessible through popular public sites such as YouTube, soliciting feedback, and, in some cases, undertaking user testing with the public. In response to feedback and user analysis they are reviewing the content, structure, and technical usability of their materials, ensuring a more learner-centric approach and enhancing opportunities for self-directed lifelong learning. Where the underlying pedagogic approach is social constructivist or situative, this entails also enhancing opportunities for peer-to-peer and social learning.
Projects have all found that OER release takes much longer than they had anticipated, especially if materials are repurposed rather than written from scratch, and the ongoing cost of time commitment needs to be met somehow. Seed funding, as provided by the programme, is one answer, but projects are also exploring other ways of meeting the cost, such as from marketing budgets, from public bodies and professional organisations for whom they are providing OER services, by donations, and by making OER production a part of student project work. Some projects also, are finding that the perceived ethos and excitement of OER release, or the prospect of enhanced individual reputation, is enough to draw other individual academics in, without formal reward.
Detailed questions and evidence
What are effective business cases for different stakeholders?
Marketing of courses provides a clear business case for MMTV (see below). Yet they also evidence a tension between marketing as a business case, and the underlying ethos of the open movement:
We also discussed where and how we were going to offer links from MMTV.com to the MSc Multimedia course at the University. We decided to add the links to the top of the page. There was considerable worry about more direct approach to the marketing of the MSC Multimedia course. In the past, the MMTV.com website did not have the same corporate look as the University of Westminster and so the marketing aspect of the OER was less obvious. There was considerable concern that by packaging the MMTV.com site in a similar way to the University of Westminster, the site may lose popularity as it would obviously be associated with an institution (MMTV final report)
MMTV website with institution branding
ChemistryFM call into question the whole market assumptions underlying the question of a business case:
The notion of ‘teachers as public intellectuals’ and ‘education as a basic human right’ is of particular interest to staff in CERD, who write about the marketisation of education and the increasing categorisation of students as ‘consumers’. We have been surprised at the lack of critical theory being applied to the work of the OER movement13, 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…From CERD’s point-of-view, it has allowed us time to consider OER within a wider context and begin to develop a critical, theoretical approach to OER which situates it within a larger social discourse on the ‘commons’. We would recommend that the Academy encourage this, too, as the OER movement is still largely dominated by technical and legalistic discourses. For example, OER could be contextualised within the Academy’s current Education for Sustainable Development agenda and its emphasis on equality and social justice. (Chemistry FM final report)
ChemistryFM discussion of “Teaching in Public”
What benefits could HE and wider society expect to see from open educational resource release?
Direct financial benefits. MMTV propose three possible ways in which the institution might benefit financially:
- through attracting students directly onto courses relating to the OER
- through boosting search engine rankings of the institution which hosts the OER
- through providing students with evidence and information about course content when choosing a course/institution.
MMTV produced strong evidence for the applicability of all three:
The research consistently shows that about 40-%45% of students would be influenced by OER content in their choice to study on a certain course. … When asked what % had viewed the content before making the choice the number was 53%. Again it suggests that nearly everyone who sees MMTV.com is influenced by it or at the least we can say that it is having a positive effect on people’s decisions to study on the course.
- An effective social networking strategy can have a big impact on the number of users who consume OER content
- Good quality OER content linked to a course can be used as a way of promoting and marketing higher educational courses.
- OER content and a strong social networking policy can have a major impact on search rankings of both the OER content and the course websites that the content is linked to.
- A well thought out policy regarding OER, could be easily sustainable and become part of the the marketing strategies of a University, department or course. The returns could be quite immediate if a policy of promoting the OER content is included in this strategy.
- OER can also have an impact on the information content of a course and this is a useful marketing tool for courses (MMTV final report)
BROME notes similar, financial benefits, despite initial perceptions of a financial barrier. Underlying their statement appears a commitment to freedom of access:
OER can be perceived to cheapen the learning experience, open educational resources looked at in isolation can feel that as there is no distinct property boundaries anybody can use it, thus there is no unique selling point being passed on imparted to the individual using it. However if open education resources are matched to items that are provided by a university such as face to face interaction and further non OER educational resources this may provide a healthy balance both from institutional standpoint and an access to materials standpoint (BROME final report)
However, MMTV also noted potential pitfalls with the marketing approach, once projects expand beyond a single home institution, and rely on social networking for their promotion:
- How can OER promote and market courses if it works across institutions? This maybe difficult as there could be a conflict of interests
- How do we judge if there is a demand for certain OERs? Are we pushing them onto users or is there a real demand for them?
- How can we streamline the dissemination and promotion of OER? (MMTV final report)
A selling point in bids for providing services to other organisations:
Projects outside my subject area want to use OER as a selling point in other bids for service provision to the wider community, i.e. “this is not a proprietary bid that wants to lock you into a piece of software. The project will help you use open source software such as Moodle for hosting and help you repurpose your content into open education materials.” (BROME final report)
Synergies with other institutional priorities, eg. reducing environmental impact:.
there have been areas where OER has found commonalities with other areas of commitment within the university. This includes the Ecoversity project carried out within the University of Bradford. The reuse of materials alongside the e-learning component of the project can be tailored to help reduce the environmental impact of the teaching activities that take place within the university. The OER project will be used as a way of reducing repeated labour, when material is repurposed rather than developed from scratch. (BROME final report)
Raising the reputation of the individual and the institution eg. MMTV
Freedom of access and enhanced opportunities for learning, around which a focused user community can develop
The project delivers a stable open-learning resource to enable digital electronics teaching to move from pure theory to experimental-learning scenarios, without assuming that learners will have access to suitable resources (as the Toolset provides these for free to anyone who wants them)… The JBB toolset prior to the OER project was only partially available in the public domain. Several components of the system were not up to the required standard for release. However there was evidence of JBB being used widely in this limited form.The Source code was not officially available, and was not considered to be in a state that would allow effective open-source community involvement. A number of unofficial mirrors site had been set up without our agreement, and the user community was fragmented. (Java Breadboard final report)
Java Breadboard community forums
An enhanced international dimension of educational experience Two models of internationalisation are apparent among the individual projects, one is of donation of materials to other countries, exemplified by EVOLUTION:
The project was invited by the BERLIN project at Nottingham to meet with representatives from UNESCO and OER Africa. As a result the project submitted samples of OERs that may be used at institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. The project has also been approached about the possibility of the OERs being translated into Chinese and this will be followed up. (EVOLUTION final report)
The other is more dialogic, involving collaboration and two-way sharing of materials: e.g.
Internationalisation is another important outcome. Our OE course materials create opportunities for international partnerships with institutions where a traditional relationship wouldn’t ordinarily be possible. These partnerships are mutually advantageous. While our open education partners benefit from the sharing of our course materials, UCF gains access to thinking and experiences not available in the UK. We’ve already had interest from the Brazilian OER project which can be formalised post launch. Such partnerships are one measure of success in the international arena. With additional courses, there is scope for creating online collaborative partnerships with courses from non-UK institutions where formal student exchanges are either impossible or impractical due to term times, dates or lack of credit transferability. openSpace also intends to link to international OE resources (openSpace final report)
Benefits from collaborative approaches to teaching/learning resource provision. Peer to peer learning, collaborative approaches and reflection go hand in hand: eg.
Tutors gain new transferrable skills when learning how to digitize their lectures and course materials. eLearning pedagogy is enhanced through discussions between academic teams and departments which include Learning and Teaching, Learning Technology, Academic Services and Senior Management… Our experience within MA Professional Writing has shown that there are positive benefits with tutors engaging with eLearning. Reviewing course materials for a different method of learning re-engages tutors with their subject. Training tutors on how to digitize their course materials not only provides tangible transferable skills, it has generated excellent conversations about how students learn, in particular students studying online, and methods academics can use to support online learning. In short, it creates new thinking around learning and teaching. (openSpace final report)
During the course of the project, another member of staff approached CERD for help making her teaching resources, ‘Pencils and Pixels’, available as OERs. This proved to be a useful learning exercise for the ChemistryFM project as it helped us think through the methods of joining the repository to the blogs and to third-party services (in this case, Vimeo) (Chemistry FM final report)
Reflection on “Pencils and Pixels” experience
Note that collaboration is not just between staff, but may also forge a new relationship between staff and students:
We would also recommend that greater attention be given to the processes of producing OERs and the transformative potential this has on the teacher-student relationship. Just as the relationship between developer and user is transformed in the process of producing community driven Open Source software, OER offers the opportunity to develop a much more open, collaborative and reciprocal relationship between teachers and the public/students. In turn, this has the potential to challenge certain neo-liberal policies at work in the HE sector, which configure the student as a consumer and promote open education as an efficiency measure and a way of delivering a commitment to widening participation. (Chemistry FM final report)
ChemistryFM discussion of “Teaching in Public”
And such staff-student collaboration helps draw students into an academic community of practice:
With students and non-UCF academics invited to make their contributions as part of a learning community, students will be able to observe the practice of academic argument and dialogue while making contributions of their own. While its’ far too early to assess the success of this approach for openSpace, our institutional knowledge in this area is based upon successful precedents.(openSpace final report)
OpenSpace’s community platform
More student-centred approaches, increasing motivation and self-directed learning through student involvement in OER development: eg.
Can OERs or OE project design influence an OE student’s motivation to persist? It is our hope that our proposed research addressing how OE students create self-directed learning goals, assess their own outcomes and persists through this process will add to the OE movement. (openSpace final report)
OERs may be intrinsically more learner-centred: eg.
Open educational resources in part due to the copyright clearance of all materials allows a certain degree of free placement within various online and offline repositories. For example a widget or a URL link can be placed anywhere on the internet to enable the material to be accessed freely without the entering of a password. A password is a barrier to entry and OER can provide a click and learn scenario experience. Open content release can thus facilitate delivery towards meeting the demands of twenty-first century learners, by providing learning object based content that is “just enough, just in time, and just for me.” (BROME final report)
Peer-peer learning about OER release processes
New relationships have been made within the University of Bradford between staff that now forms an OER network that includes a wide variety of skill sets. It is hoped that this network will facilitate capacity building within this area…. The use of the OER related community sites that deal with many of the issues that this project has encountered has also been beneficial (BROME final report)
What benefits do subject communities, institutional communities and other communities receive?
A buffer against decline of specific subjects or topics OLE Dutch History project
A “commons” based approach to teaching and learning – the Teaching in Public Framework
CERD’s interest in the project also stemmed from our promotion of ‘Teaching in Public’, a concept which involves progressive curricula design, with students as an academic’s ‘first public’ (Burawoy, 2005), the promotion of teaching as a ‘public good’ (Deem et al, 2007) and the role of university lecturers as ‘public intellectuals’ (Fuller, 2005)… Using the term, Teaching in Public, CERD has been primarily interested in this project as a way to consider how the creation and sharing of Open Educational Resources might act as an effective method of countering the neo-liberalisation of higher education and resisting policies rooted in commercialisation and marketisation of education in favour of an alternative conceptualisation of higher education as a public good. (Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM discussion of “Teaching in Public”
Such teaching in public brings many benefits, including enhancing student learning, contributions from the public to quality, and sustainability: eg.
… the role of student-producers collaborating with staff, can not only improve the teaching process through the critical development of new resources but also the learning process, by producing publicly accessible (and therefore informally ‘peer-reviewed’) materials which can be submitted as partial fulfilment of coursework. The process could be cyclical, with new students, re-evaluating previous student work and responding to new public comment and criticism in the process of producing updated resources. The new students are themselves, in terms of Teaching in Public, the teachers’ ‘first public’, having not long been enrolled in the university and often with relatively little experience of basic chemistry. Their expectations are a useful measurement of the public’s expectations and visa-versa. (Chemistry FM final report)
Chemistry FM presentation on sustainability
Evidence of enhanced opportunities for: self-directed learning; peer-to-peer and social learning Benefits to teaching staff, enrolled students, and students outside the institution: eg.
Our experience shows that this particular resource will be used by (a) educators – to facilitate clearly defined learning activities that are available in or out of classrooms, (b) students for self study, and (c) independent learners who are interested in curiosity driven experimentation in digital electronics.(Java Breadboard final report)
What are the costs of OER release and who typically has to bear them? Are the benefits perceived as being worth the cost?
The main cost is time, and OER release has generally been more time consuming than imagined, eg.
The hours worked on the project have exceed those charged to the overall budget; (BROME final report)
Although the project successfully repackaged and unbundled existing OERs the time and effort required took more than had been estimated (EVOLUTION final report)
The cost may be vastly increased for multi-media OER when accessibility issues also are taken into account: eg.
One lesson learned was the cost of producing transcripts to accompany audio and video files and the cost of close captioning. Transcripts and close captioning fall within best practice for accessibility. Quotes received from prospective service providers were prohibitively high and this work was not possible under the allocated budget. (openSpace final report)
However, ethical and other motivational considerations may outweigh the barrier of time commitment for some individuals: eg.
The hours worked on the project have exceed those charged to the overall budget, however the nature of the project and the support given to the team involved by the JISC, the HEA and the University of Bradford has facilitated significant buy in from those involved with the project (BROME final report)
And technology is bringing down the costs of release (but at the same time is moving the goalposts by enabling ever more complex materials). eg.
The development that is most noteworthy is that with the advent and subsequent development to of new software such as Word press an individual academic can make and release some impressive open learning materials that can be managed without the need for institutional outlay. (BROME final report)
Funding to cover costs may come from various units within an institution as well as from project funding: eg.
The University has taken quite an interest in the OER idea. The University provided half the funds for the project and this came from finance from the Westminster Exchange. However the Central Marketing department had also been interested in the project and initially made the offer to finance the University’s contribution. (MMTV final report)
Summary of benefits
OER network within institution;
Familiarity with support offered by JISC and HEA;
OER expertise among project staff
Relationships with other OER projects;
Improved teaching materials through feedback and reflection;
Decision-making by prospective students;
Widening experience, eg. From international collaborations
Enhanced skills of the student developers
enhanced skills of academic staff
Improved teaching and learning through feedback and reflection and student input
Marketing a specific course
Raised institutional profile
upskilling academic staff
learning materials for enrolled students
Improve usability of toolset
Improve developer interface
Ensure sustainability by supporting 3rd party development