UKOER institutional strand OER release

What have we learned about good practice in OER release?

author: Lou McGill

For the institutional strand an important aspect of ‘good practice’ is making sure that OER release models and approaches relate to and reflect their own institutional objectives and strategies. This does still allow for much wider global visions and several institutional strand projects include altruistic or wider social benefits as one of their drivers in releasing learning and teaching content. In an institutional sense OER release should start with the identification of key drivers (global, national or local), stakeholders and benefits and aligning these to their own strategies, policy and practice.

Institutions also need to balance the tensions between some of these drivers. A good example of this was highlighted by the BERLiN Project when discussing quality of OERs – it may be more cost effective to release quick simple content but this conflicts with a desire to use OERs as a marketing tool to showcase high quality institutional materials.

Sustainable OER Release has been a key focus of the programme and institutional strand projects have put considerable effort into ensuring that there will be long term impact as a result of project funding. Prior to funding much OER release activity took place at an individual level in an ad hoc and unmanaged way, with these people acting as pioneers and often connecting with other people through subject or OER communities. Institutional approaches to OER release need to acknowledge these forms of sharing resources and practice and institutional policies and mechanisms should enable, support, encourage and not stifle these activities.

All institutional strand projects grappled with IPR issues, particularly clearance of third party content, and many had to take advice from JISC Legal as well as institutional Copyright Officers and lawyers. Some took a more risk averse approach whilst others adopted what they describe as ‘common sense’ policies. All projects produced guidance for institution staff which will also be of value to the wider community. Some projects highlighted tensions around OERs released by individuals, by themselves, or through Communities of Practice that may not follow institutional policy and guidelines in relation to issues such as IPR, branding and quality.

Good practice in OER release requires informed and well supported teams of people and institutional strand projects remarked on the unusual level of cross institutional dialogue and collaboration that ensued from their activities. Several different models were ultimately adopted but all projects put enormous effort into engaging ‘hearts and minds’ and the resulting workshops, guidance, information, tool kits and surveys were significant. Most projects aimed to make ‘thinking openly’ inherent in designing curricula and learning activities and normalising OER activities. This was approached at strategic levels through incorporating OER into existing strategies and policy or developing specific policies or statements of intent. Staff development and performance review were two other areas where good practice around release and use of OERs was addressed with a particular reference to ‘reward and recognition’. This was an important theme for all institutional strand projects as they worked to overcome barriers to sharing from busy academic staff. Early activities included a focus on understanding and articulating the benefits of sharing for different stakeholders.


BERLiN (University of Nottingham)

OCEP (University of Coventry)

  • minimap, workflow guide, employability resource audit, Policy document Briefing and training materials, guides, consent forms, agreements

OpenExeter (University of Exeter)

Openspires (University of Oxford)

OpenStaffs (Staffordshire University)

  • OPENSTAFFS Project final report
  • guide v1 for all University Staffordshire University October 2009
  • guide v2 for Library staff supporting contributors February 2010 (under development)

OTTER (University of Leicester)

Unicycle Project (Leeds Metropolitan University)

Excerpts from project documentation


‘The great thing about U-Now is that it allows us to interact with different groups internationally in a number of different ways… prospective students can use U-Now to see what teaching and learning is like at the University of Nottingham; partner universities in other countries can use the materials on U-Now to get a sense of what we do and also if they find them useful, to use them in their own teaching. In that sense, U-Now is very consistent with what we say our internationalisation strategy is: ‗knowledge without borders’

Professor Chris Ennew, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation


There were many more iterations than we thought. Whilst this might have resulted in an over repetitive project, it was more the case that we kept discovering that the things we thought we knew were not as clear cut as they appeared. This meant that we had to constantly revisit issues to adapt and refine processes, guidance and policies in order to improve them to a point where they were usable.
In many cases the only way to make progress was by experimentation and testing issues out.
We ended up doing much more by trial error than we anticipated.
Do not invent new processes to deal with OERs unless you have to; there are enough processes already.
Not every resource should be made open; we need to choose carefully and promote the idea that having an open resource to your name is a matter of pride.
OER are very diverse; it may not be sensible to have the same processes and requirements for all of them.
We are likely to learn by experimentation; there are many questions about OERs which we can only get answers to by trying things out.

Lessons learnt:

Making something open is easy; making it useful to others is much more difficult.
Learning and teaching resources are often complex, interlinked and contextually bound. This does not mean that they should not be open; it does mean that they need to be explained.
IPR issues can be overstated, but they cannot be ignored.
Although employee content may be contractually owned by employers, relying on this does not help to generate a stream of good open content.
Teachers like recognition for their work; we need to feed back to them how their open content is being used.


Institutional marketing and a clear communication strategy helped the discoverability of the digitised material leading to consistent download figures. Reports of usage by learners encouraged the academics involved and reflected well on the work of the departments.


material intended for open access should be identified at the creation stage so that the principles of reuse, ownership and licences can be addressed at the outset.


The CORRE workflow has been critical in enabling a seamless flow of work through the various stages from collection to release of OERs

Unicycle Leeds Metroplolitan University)

Localised quality control rather than centralised system has given ownership of material and process to Faculties

What issues are presented by the release of particular types of content (multimedia, interactive, student created content?

Institutional strand projects managed to effect release across a wide range of faculties and subject areas. A few teams saw a value in releasing generic content that would be of most potential reuse within the the institution and one chose to adopt a thematic approach which reflected institutional priorities. Types of content ranged from whole course modules to small individual assets. Re-use within the institution was seen as an important. Several projects were concerned with version control due to the changing nature of some content and some decided to adopt the use of ‘pedagogical wrappers’ to provide context to smaller assets. In some cases the wrappers themselves constituted the content that was deposited in a variety of places (including JorumOpen) with the actual resource being deposited within the institutional repository or system.

Several projects considered issues relating to releasing student content and with one asking students about this during a survey. One third of students asked were reluctant to open their own content to other students (OTTER Project). The BERLiN Project did release a set of final year Biosciences undergraduate project outputs.


  • make one, store one, distribute many – desire to reduce difficulties of updating, version control, archiving – one master version with possibly different wrappers – difficult for large complex resources
  • thematic approach (employability) – institution wide relevance & diverse range of material types
  • Play to a university strength
  • Include not just academic departments but also student services (careers staff in particular)
  • Involve library staff since they also contribute to the employability curriculum
  • Enable cross-university debate on issues without the added dimension of subject or discipline differences intervening
  • Reflect the growing national (and international) trend for universities to explicitly include employability issues in a broad sense within the curriculum
  • Enable us to share our experiences, through making resources freely available, in an area where Coventry as taken a distinctive approach (for example, through the Add+Vantage Programme).

Openspires (University of Oxford)

  • Skills and research methods materials have the highest internal reuse as these are topics that are desirable on many courses across the University.
  • The greater expense of processing video instead of audio is not justified by greater use. When the same item exists as both audio and video in iTunes U, audio downloads outstrip video by a considerable margin (e.g. An Introduction to Old English by Stuart Lee has had 11,300 audio downloads versus 3,400 video downloads since its release in November 2009).
  • The complex structure of the collegiate university – at times it was difficult to get to the right people, particularly support staff within departments to encourage the adoption of the devolved model. There are no centralised email circulation lists, for example, which made outreach more difficult.
  • There is a clear model now for content to be stored locally and surfaced nationally. Institutional repositories first, then surfaced via links in subject portals and national repositories.

OpenSTAFFS (Staffordshire University)

  • perceived value of different types of content – generic skills vs. discipline rich content
  • concerns re moving content from VLE to Repository – contains student content
  • decisions about quality of some content (recording quality/editing)
  • robust procedures for removing student content before making it open (during transition between VLE and Repository)
  • Loading Reload IMS packages into JorumOpen and providing the user with a navigation and way to preview files before downloading a package

OTTER (University of Leicester)

  • as far as possible trying to ‘untether’ the OERs (e.g. standalone videos for hand-helds) – users don’t have to be online to use them.

Unicycle (Leeds Metropolitan University)

How can effective processes be shared and embedded?

Institutional strand projects adopted a range of methods to ensure that OER processes were embedded:

  • ensuring that they were supported in strategy documents
  • incorporated into staff development activities, particularly within accredited teacher training
  • development of a range of workshops, templates and guidance for different roles within the institutions
  • taking forward with HE Academy re incorporating into teaching fellowships and offering a wide range of supporting materials
  • creation of frameworks and institutional models which articulate the processes across the institution
  • ensuring that faculty staff play a central role
  • academic champions and cascade models of training
  • mandates or statements of intent for staff and in one case also for students

BERLIN (University of Nottingham)

  • review process for delivery of back catalogue materials

OpenExeter (University of Exeter)

  • suite of protocols and templates for oer release
  • content creation


  • The complex structure of the collegiate university – at times it was difficult to get to the right people, particularly support staff within departments to encourage the adoption of the devolved model. There are no centralised email circulation lists, for example, which made outreach more difficult.

OpenStaffs (Staffordshire University)

  • OER process map for embedding open access release into University educational

OTTER (University of Leicester)

  • University has mandated students to submit their theses and staff to submit their research output to the University’s repository – both get people used to the idea of Open Access and its benefits.
  • CORRE model a framework for transforming teaching materials into oers

Unicycle Project (Leeds Metropolitan University]]

How do existing repositories support the release of OERs in the UK?

Several projects benefitted from already having an institutional repository and worked towards openness (or staged/progressive openness within that framework. One project used the project impetus to establish a new repository. Several projects felt that content management systems were much better than repositories due to their better handling of complex Learning Objects. All projects focussed on using systems for hosting that integrated into institutional infrastructures.

Projects had a mandate to deposit in JorumOpen but many felt this contravened the principle of having one place for deposit (ensuring version control and resource management) and many for distribution. Most projects in this strand adopted an approach of adding meta records (sometimes pedagogical wrappers) or links in JorumOpen. Three projects deposited actual items within JorumOpen – one of these did so because of delays in establishing their own system and one id so as they couldn’t utilise the RSS feed at this stage.

see also Institutional Strand – Technical and hosting issues

OTTER (University of Leicester)

  • University has mandated students to submit their theses and staff to submit their research output to the University’s repository – both get people used to the idea of Open Access and its benefits.