subject strand synthesis – Helen Beetham
Projects found plenty of enthusiasts ready to attest to the benefits they had experienced from involvement in OER. However, surveys tended to surface doubts that the business case for OER has yet been made, that mainstream academics would be willing to devote the necessary time, or that engagement could be sustained without additional external funding.
Many academics involved in the subject strand stated that they were motivated to improve student learning or access to learning, or just because they felt open release was ‘the right thing’ to do. There seems little reason to disbelieve them, particularly as the same academics were pessimistic about the likelihood of any institutional recognition or reward in the future.
A large number of projects and their partners stated that ‘sharing’ was a given in their community, or an essential part of their ongoing role, and that OERs represented a further opportunity to realise this value. Perhaps because of the subject focus the strand did not uncover many examples of reputational enhancement as either a separate driver to engagement or an actual outcome of it. Share and share alike within a defined community of learning and teaching practice was the explicit business and benefits case for most of the projects. This was more often stated in terms of benefiting from shared learning and teaching ideas than in terms of time saved in materials development.
What are effective business cases for different stakeholders?
- Major attraction for OER production appears to be raising individual profile and hence institution
- Financial arguments for producing OER in current climate may be difficult to justify if competition between institutions is encouraged
- There are concerns about the sustainability of open release. Early ‘leading’ OERs may become embedded, making later ones harder to adopt.
- Not all our partners are convinced that the business case will emerge without further incentive; developing a quality OER resource on a given topic will require a common approach and low barriers to enhancement.
S4S: evidence that institutions have seen enhanced reputation through release of OERs and involvement in high quality project. However… S4S: evidence that individuals are not highly motivated by business cases but by practical issues such as saving time.
- There need to be more diverse and qualitative ways of recognising the contribution individuals and departments make to the OER effort. It is not helpful just to quantify the number of credits released or time taken.
- Research-active staff see it as showcase for specialist materials: teaching staff see it as enhancing their role and credibility.
- All staff are more likely to engage and perceive it as beneficial if they can identify others with similar research/teaching interests, and if they can participate actively in the community.
OERP: There are incentives for engaging in developing OER, which are not financial, and these are different for each academic. Quote: ‘‘Determine motivations for individuals and the institution in advance, and only proceed with a full understanding of the time involved’
What benefits could HE and wider society expect to see from open educational resource release?
Bioscience final report findings/conclusions:
- Academic institutions may gain a public audience and recognition for the OERs but prospective students may be mainly interested in low level introductory materials.
- Once an OER has been developed by a number of authors it may have weaker links with a single institution (and fewer reputational benefits)
- UK HE in general will have an enhanced profile in the domain of Open Educational Resources if the quality control is sufficient to improve resources.
- Students will benefit from a broader range of OERs.
C-change – type and level of OER released will be dictated by intended benefits e.g. for institutional reputation, level 1 resources will be more appropriate: to meet demand for specialist materials, level 3 will be more appropriate
OERP: benefits of sharing (quote): ‘I have become much more aware of the wider teaching community. We tend to be a bit isolated when teaching HE in FE so this experience has been helpful. It has also helped me reflect on some of my materials and delivery methods and hopefully improved them for future use.’
TRUE: potential benefits from OER:
- compare course with other offerings and fill any gaps
- saves time searching for resources
- can make it easier for students to access materials especially on topics that can’t be squeezed into the main curriculum
- helps to overcome a shortage of good quality teaching materials in specialist subjects
- can provide a source of ideas for new approaches to assessment
- enables academics who are asked to teach outside their area of expertise to get up to speed quickly
- enables you to get really up-to-date resources from experts in their field
- enables sharing with other countries which do not have expertise or resources
- may get people in touch with each other and foster the development of a subject-based community
OER-CSAP benefits of sharing: the opportunity to openly discuss and share [educational ideas] at this level of detail has been highly valuable. NB the CSAP project focused intensively on describing the educational rational and context for released materials.
What particular benefits do subject communities, institutional communities and other communities receive?
Humbox interim findings:
- There has been significant engagement with the area of benefits by project partners which have included personal benefits for the individual showcasing their work (HumBox has a personal profile page which lists deposits and downloads). This has been seen as complementary to the research profile especially in relation to the proposed new research framework and also as a potential benefit in terms of promotion and recognition.
- Additionally partners have requested the ability to upload institutional logos in order to showcase their institutions.
- Partners have been active in engaging colleagues with OER and have identified ways in which different messages can be communicated in different contexts (dept/school/institutional level).
OERP interim finding: in the current economic climate and the uncertainty over funding for HEI’s, staff levels are being reduced, and the remaining staff are facing increasing workloads and therefore focused on core activities with less time to commit to additional projects
PHORUS interim findings:
- a range of benefits need to be offered persuasively: these can be discipline and topic specific e.g. in Public Health, a focus on the human rights element of the open education project.
- barriers to OER release include: perceived lack of recognition (financial and reputational) for OER release, plus perceived inequality of reputational benefit (some institutions have a stronger track record than others)
- barriers to OER release: diversity of teaching approaches and topics covered, may be a particular issue in relatively new, and in interdisciplinary subject areas.
- need to demonstrate benefit of OER to the discipline is problematic without examples, and without evidence of sustained investment (perception OER projects are short-lived).
S4S: evidence that involvement in the project has led to better understanding and practical experience of OER release which is being cascaded to others at partner institutions and in the professional body.
FETLAR: there may be topic or skill specific benefits e.g. taking a collaborative, inter-departmental approach to ‘the maths problem’
Bioscience final findings/reflections:
- subject communities benefit from) a broader range of resources to choose from and a series of IT approaches illustrating what can be achieved.
- Groups with a common interest in teaching a topic may find the OERs a hub for discussion and networking.
- Teaching more effectively is a passion for most academics and a strong motivator for open release.
- Reward and recognition for the producers is likely to be highest for the early adopters of the OER approach. Beyond this, the additional overhead of open release is not being balanced by any incentive, as the benefits of improved collaboration cannot materialise until sufficient ‘stock’ is available to build upon.
- Promoting their discipline is a potentially good motivator, as is enhancing the producer’s profile and standing in their discipline community.
SimShare Legal findings:
- An OER repository not only provides ‘off the peg’ simulations but is also a showcase for what can be done with simulation.
- Simulation use is strongly inhibited by the perceived complexity and cost of development. *Simshare has addressed thist by offering ready-made simulations, which users can implement without the need to develop a resource from the ground up.
C-Change finding: the reputational case/benefit creates an argument for professional design and high quality, integrated, finished resources with clear branding. This can run counter to the demands of re-use.
- staff with ongoing links to professional practice may understand the benefits of showcasing their teaching/learning content in this way. However: a lot of practitioners depend on their commercial outputs and may be reluctant to share in this way.
- Institutional incentives are reputational. Most practitioners expressed a desire to learn from one another rather than expecting any reward.
TRUE evaluation suggests that open content benefits new lecturers and those teaching unfamiliar areas more than others.
ICS: Benefits experienced:
- Enhanced opportunities for student learning from the open sharing of quality teaching materials;
- Establishment of a quality brand based on the robustness and scholarly integrity of the materials;
- Increased dissemination of OER materials thanks to ease of discovery;
- Promoted sustainability by supporting and encouraging initial adopters to convert to contributors
- Efficiency gains in course development.
What are the costs of OER release and who typically has to bear them?
Costs of release are currently borne by the staff involved. These include staff time for: resource selection; repurposing, quality assurance/review, description/tagging, uploading, and ongoing updating/QE. In addition, if support is not available, staff will have to invest extra time in the early stages upskilling in the areas of copyright, metadata, repositories and open content design.
Projects distributed these costs differently, in some cases bringing most of the additional activities into the core team, in other cases devolving as many activities as possible to partners in the interests of capacity building across the consortium.
Few projects felt that the cost and time implications of OER could realistically be borne by academics in the subject community without additional funding.
Bioscience final finding/reflection: Each OER originator has an overhead in learning how to produce OERs for future development. Contributors have not only to learn how to adapt the materials but various ‘deep’ technical skills may be required for some more popular resources e.g. Flash programming. The institution will have to provide some support for developing an OER approach to avoid originators having to spend extra time on resource development for the ‘open’ market. However, early costs are highest because staff are gaining skills: once these barriers are overcome, future costs will be lower.
Quotes: potential funders [need to] realise that development of open educational resources is a time consuming process that needs to be planned well in advance to allow sufficient staff time to develop/repackage resources. Producing open content requires a significant individual effort for currently no reward, or incentive
S4S: None of our Project Members indicated that they would receive any formal recognition or reward for their work releasing OER or expect any in the near future.
C-Change and others: Starting development of an OER ‘from scratch’ may well cost less than repurposing Level 3 and M-level materials might be reaching a more specialized, ‘high stakes’ but smaller audience and are associated with higher redevelopment costs.
ADM-OER: with budgetary pressures staff find it increasingly difficult to find time to digitise and upload resources. At the same time they are under pressure to commercialise outcomes. Fear that open resources might make teachers redundant. Quote from academic partner: There are no specific reward strategies in place
TRUE: main reasons for academics not releasing materials despite an interest in the OER project: time/cost, followed by IPR concerns and concerns about sensitive material
What proportion of these costs has been borne by the project: are the costs sustainable without project funding?
Biosciences: costs are not sustainable without project funding at present. Quotes from partners: ”’each new ‘unit’ has to be justified financially on a course-by-course basis. However, if we are producing units for use by courses in (eg) 10 universities then the costs should be spread across the sector. But there is no mechanism to do this.’ ‘…I suspect that our funders may see OER as a way of producing cheaper teaching – ie, the unit is produced by one group or individual and then given away to everyone – this is completely the wrong way to improve the quality of teaching material.”’
OERP: Funding levels to support OER in the short term must be commensurate with those found elsewhere in academia, such as in research, to sustain the practice in the future.
Project outputs and evidence
OERP: outcomes of interviews and focus groups
CORE-Materials: evidence of benefit in promoting / marketing the discipline and quality of Materials Science in UK HE
TRUE: evaluation of specialist community engagement in and benefits from relevant wikis
MEDEV: collaboration toolkit investigating Downes (2006) business case models in the context of 17 MEDEV partners