UKOER subject strand cultural issues

subject strand synthesis – Helen Beetham


Subject Centres exist to support a culture of shared best practice in their subject communities, so it was no surprise to find that they were pushing at an open door when it came to sharing materials. The evidence is that sharing already takes place informally, though generally within departments. In recruiting partners, and in the surveys and focus groups which some projects conducted with academic staff, there was very little reluctance to share teaching and learning resources with colleagues.

Subject Centres already maintain databases of learning and teaching examples, and/or materials. Unlike the other two strands, then, the subject strand did not need to persuade colleagues of a sharing agenda. They did need to shift the culture of sharing towards more formal mechanisms and towards fully open resources, i.e. reusable, accessible, copy-right cleared, openly licensed and consistently tagged.

There is, however, a reluctance to share editable materials with unknown others because of the risk of ‘inappropriate’ or even damaging new versions entering the public domain. Sometimes this created a tension between a ‘communities of practice’ culture – sharing and collaborating on resources with identified others in a subject or topic interest group – and an ‘into the wild’ culture – releasing resources to as many end-users as possible, with limited expectation of feedback and no community to support re-use. Different projects found themselves in different places on this axis, and some adopted elements of both.

The culture of reuse may be less advanced than the culture of open sharing, at least among contacts of the subject centres. Having a strong professional identification with learning and teaching, most of these staff do not feel comfortable re-using other people’s materials unchanged, though they like to be inspired by seeing what other educators are doing and often use Google (etc) searches to identify material for this purpose. They are more likely to reuse materials such as simulations, and quality images and video, which they do not see themselves having the time or expertise to produce for themselves.

There is strong support from this strand for the idea that subject communities represent a good – perhaps ‘the best’ – opportunity to develop a sustained culture of resource sharing and reuse. There is also limited support for the idea that smaller i.e. topic or sub-discipline communities are even more likely to succeed (C-Change, TRUE). In these cases, contributors and users are likely to: understand one another’s materials and descriptions/metadata; share assumptions about how materials are developed and used; trust one another’s expertise; find materials of relevance when searching, and to take part in constructive peer review in the expectation of receiving valuable feedback on their own materials.


What are current norms for sharing educational content in different communities? What global or local trends are in evidence?

What motivates and supports/ enables individuals to make their content open?

How does the opening of learning resources affect the roles of individuals?

What are the institutional, legal, cultural barriers to open content? (NB this is addressed more fully in recommendations)

Project findings

Norms and values may be more closely associated with topics and sub-disciplines than with whole subject areas.

There is evidence of different norms and values within HE, FE, Industry & the professional bodies. For example (OERP) teachers in FE have a much broader range of teaching roles and less time for research and development activities.

Many projects have commented on the lack of a awareness of OER, and where there is awareness, a lack of consensus about what constitutes ‘openness’, metadata, resusability, a repository.

Among subject communities, Subject Centres are popular sources of information; repository use is currently low.

Enthusiasm for re-use is generally low, even among people involved in releasing OERs. This may be where culture change has to start.

C-Change: attempts to develop CoP activity using an online forum, separately from the repository itself and associated blog, was not as successful as anticipated – an online forum is not the only way to do this.

OERP evaluation report: ‘‘The four academics delivering the resources are from different departments. I do not believe there will be much impact on their colleagues or other departments. We do not appear to have a great deal of enthusiasm for using other peoples’ OER.

Humbox interim findings

  • good engagement with partners achieved through community repository approach with shared responsibility for technical features, a tangible space for the community to build, and Web 2.0 features e.g. a blog and personal profile page which allows users to create an identity within the repository. .
  • Humanities are not reluctant to share but there are anxieties about abuse in the repurposing of resources, misuse of the comments option, and concern about IPR issues. Also (final report) concern about poor tagging and cataloguing.

Humbox conclusions:

  • discipline-based approaches are most likely to bring about sustained change in academic practices towards OER.
  • a critical number of departments need to be involved in sharing resources before there is significant value and benefit
  • peer reviewed OERs can help to link teaching and research by demonstrating research impact, and by showcasing excellent teaching.
  • staff are finding resources from beyond their subject area to inspire and re-use. There is recognition of a common interest in humanities pedagogy and scholarship, but more awareness of the diversity of approaches.

OERP findings:

  • surprisingly little resistance to open release from academics, heads of department or legal advisors at institutions.

To some extent OER formalises, legalises and clarifies practices already in wide usage by academics

Bioscience findings:

  • We have little evidence of anyone currently using non-UK OER materials in the Biosciences or building upon them.
  • For OER to become established practice, it is important to increase the pool of exemplars which can be easily adopted and have significant potential for becoming adapted.

Bioscience (survey results) A brief summary of the combined results (n=86) is as follows;

  • Almost 80% of academics use other academics’ (non-published) resources
  • They use them to save time and to enhance the student learning experience (~60%)
  • Only 50% ‘believe in sharing educational resources’
  • ‘Within department’ and the subject networks were the main routes for gathering resources originated by academic colleagues
  • For those who do not use others’ resources, the main reasons given were a) difficulty in finding appropriate resources and b) difficulty in adapting them
  • Over 82% share their own learning and teaching materials
  • Sharing outwards is mostly to known individuals and networks, through personal contact and emails
  • Over 50% wish to promote their materials to students and prospective students, with personal reputation only slightly more important than the institutional reputation in motivating sharing
  • Only 7% had reasons for not sharing resources, with ‘lack of time’ and ‘lack of support’ being identified as the primary causes
  • Most academics reported Google and ‘the internet’ as initial sources for resources.
  • Reliance on too many external resources for learning and teaching material is not regarded as good academic practice. Adopted OERs may be attractive but engagement in adapting an OER may be a more acceptable academic solution.

OER CSAP: finding (interim report) academics and departments do not tend to consider reusability issues when developing teaching materials

PHORUS findings from interim report:

  • significant barrier to open release in PH is the perceived potential loss of income and competitive advantage for the institution.
  • PH teaching often takes place across departments/faculties which can multiply the problem of achieving consent for open release.
  • mapping OERs to careers and skills framework may support greater uptake of resources. Problem in PH that this framework is relatively new.

FETLAR findings:

  • creators are concerned about derived works
  • possibly more evidence of existing sharing in the maths support community than in the curricular maths teams
  • re-use of materials is widespread and generally condoned; if anything wariness has increased. New guidance needs to recognise existing practice.

S4S findings:

  • The physical science community includes people (% unknown) who are already sharing resources.
  • Those surveyed do so primarily because it accords with their beliefs, secondarily for practical reasons, personal development, and duty to their job role or institution.

SimShare Legal: Authors are keen to share, and often to showcase their work. Many of our contributors had already shared their work on an informal basis, and the SIMPLE community had already established an ethos of free distribution of software and materials.

CORE-Materials: To reward openness, repository search results are ordered so that resources with the most open licence are displayed first and the most restrictive last. “Thanks for taking my existing [electronic] teaching resources and working with me to add so much more to them… having demonstrated my enhanced electronic resources [on CORE-Materials] at our Staff Away-Day, my colleagues now want to similarly deposit their teaching resources.”

C-change evaluation findings

  • mixed views as to whether the topic of climate change helped to focus effort and to meet a broad public interest agenda, or risked excluding potential partners and potentially excellent OERs
  • Query over whether a focus on public learning and community responsibility facilitates open release i.e. the topic already has public interest agenda.
  • Risks to reputation with ‘inaccurate’ repurposing are enhanced with high profile topics such as climate change. Solution: deposit some materials as pdf files and/or use metadata that ‘travels with the OER’.
  • Finding that materials considered by community to be ‘open’ are in fact restricted for use can damage perceptions of OER.

ADM-OER findings

  • Open release makes sense in the Art and Design communities because we produce work for an audience, we’re used to it and reinvention is important – part of the process. *Terminology and awareness of OER needs to extend, on top of existing practices of sharing and openness.
  • However, for the same reasons, staff may be very committed to original creation and reluctant to re-use, even if happy to share: you want to create your own thing’ ‘[my resources] relate strongly to my teaching style Themes of individual and institutional identity were strongly to the fore.
  • ADM subjects require students to respond to rapidly changing contexts. Resources have to be capable of being constantly updated.

OER C-SAP – existing practice is characterised by: private enterprise of creating materials; delivery in locked VLEs; ‘hidden’ or unrecorded use of materials with/by students. Against this, principles of collaborative knowledge building and co-construction can and should be applied to the process of repurposing and opening up social sciences teaching materials.

Within what kinds of communities does open sharing take place readily and effectively?What are these communities actually sharing?

Project findings

C-change findings:

  • evidence of active, sustained communities of practice around pedagogy of climate change
  • encouraging deposit in institutional repositories embeds OER into institutional cultures.

TRUE interim findings:

  • Subject specialists have had greatest influence convincing individuals to contribute resources where there is an existing professional relationship between them.
  • However, there is a significant influence where a future working relationship is being mooted, or is in development.

Community repositories

  • Theere is much to be learned from projects which have established successful community repositories with social features such as profiles, ‘following’, ‘recommending’ etc. These include HumBox and SimShare Legal
  • It is too early to know how successful these projects have been but the early signs are good. They clearly represent an alternative model – slightly less ‘open’ because the community requires log-in, but potentially more sustainable.
  • e.g. Humbox: over 100 collections assembled by users so far, showing that users are interacting dynamically with the resources and repurposing/reaggregating them for their own use.

FETLAR: There is a long-standing culture of sharing of resources and experience (around maths teaching and support) which FETLAR can only enhance

How are attitudes changing?

Project findings

Dynamic nature of OER movement: within only the first six months of the pilot programme, perceptions and attitudes have changed.

CORE-materials findings

  • Evidence of learning resources being more widely shared, used and developed by the subject community
  • Evidence of different attitudes and practices among HE, FE, industry and professional bodies.
  • Many academics, including those in the field of e-learning, tended to be unaware of creative common licensing and the use of open web 2.0 services for open content release. (Awareness benchmarked by project: is becoming more widespread)

Bioscience (interim report finding) National OER awareness boosted by media publications has improved perception of value of OER approach

C-Change: we are already seeing the following changes in attitude: interest in marketing opportunities and enhanced departmental visibility through OER; greater awareness of IPR when designing materials: routine uploading of suitable materials to web-platforms such as YouTube and Flickr; greater interest in OER issues in bids to SC T and L fund.

Humbox: findings show that over the course of project funding:

  • fewer humanities participants felt that resources were not reusable
  • adaptation became the preferred form of re-use
  • little change in the original high level of willingness to re-use generally
  • but significantly more believed multimedia resources could be reused and adapted
  • diverging attitudes towards specific types of resource e.g. lecture notes and assessment materials gained in popularity less than multimedia and presentation resources, suggesting a more nuanced and informed approach

ADM-OER findings

  • Documented a major shift in attitude away from closed VLE as repository for learning materials and towards open institutional repositories. Also a general shift in favour of creation of online materials.
  • Staff are expected to produce teaching content but digitising and uploading have until very recently been seen as a matter of individual responsbility.

OERP: there has been some resistance to the whole OER movement, with one academic advising that there is a real risk that ‘if faced with a demand to release materials, some academics may simply hide their materials by claiming they do not use any’ and that although the ethos of OER is sound some academics are ‘yet to be convinced of demand unless the quality and granularity are right.’

SimShare Legal: there is need of a cultural change towards:

  • openness of support (staff using OERs to help others)
  • openness of pedagogic development (sharing new models of teaching, learning and assessment via OERs and commentary on them).
  • ollaborative activities between institutions.

Quotes: ” ‘We need to reconceptualise OER not as harmonious sharing but as peer improvement and adaptation.’ ” ” ‘OER is only sustainable, in the absence of substantial grants, if we change our practices at a deep level.’ “

Project outputs and evidence

OERP evaluation report = outcomes of interviews and focus groups

TRUE evaluation of specialist community engagement in relevant wikis and sustainability of that engagement; evaluation of value to and engagement of new lecturers

CORE-materials: evidence of learning resources being more widely shared, used and developed by the subject community; evidence of different attitudes and practices among HE, FE, industry and professional bodies.

TRUE evaluation of specialist community engagement in relevant wikis and sustainability of that engagement; evaluation of value to and engagement of new lecturers

S4S questions survey and results evidence changing attitudes and practices around sharing OERs.

C-change evaluation questions: does the topic/ theme (e.g. climate change and sustainability) engage people with OER more than a broad subject approach? Do specific topics/themes influence the degree of openness, e.g. in this particular topic, focus on public learning and community responsibility may facilitate open release?

ADM-OER: paper on the subject community’s understanding of OER and the issues involved for art, design and media, including rights and rewards strategies.

Bioscience: survey of attitudes and expectations among bioscience community

Humbox surveys (before and after development project)

OER-CSAP Literature review and reflections on the social science curriculum and ‘community of practice’ approach to releasing materials.