UKOER subject strand pedagogy and OER use

Subject Strand synthesis – Helen Beetham


As discussed, evidence of demand and use is lacking and is seen as a major gap in understanding.

There is a reasonable amount of evidence that academics like disaggregated 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. However, 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. There is no evidence from this strand but a general assumption that learners as end-users will have different requirements, i.e. will prefer integrated resources in which their learning path is more guided, and where the learning outcomes are clear.

The question of ‘level’ was raised by several projects. C-Change noted that introductory level materials benefit from a wider number of potential users, but advanced materials can add more value because of their scarcity and specialist nature.

Most projects came to the conclusion that it was important to provide pedagogic information with resources, whether this was 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.

Which types of OER are used by different stakeholders? What evidence do we have of OERs being in demand (and what kind of OERs??)

Findings from projects

There is a need to explore further and more sophisticated means of gathering evidence about OER demand and use. For example, the ICS project team have worked closely with the JorumOpen Technical Team to identify potentially useful metrics but recognise there are still many gaps in the picture. Several projects failed to find any staff enthusiasm for using OERs, though most agreed that students would use OERs if they were easy to access.

Bioscience: evidence that OERs will be reused if they are:

  • accessible and easy to adopt into practice, for example if they are web-based and discoverable via web-based searches
  • adaptable to new contexts with minimal technical intervention
  • clearly and explicitly available under an open license
  • adding value to the individual, e.g. saving time on ab initio development, offering material in a form that could not easily be developed by the individual


  • On-line resources have changed and are changing learning, teaching, delivery; whether they are “open” or not may be less important.
  • Most institutions are strategically engaged with issues of maths support, so there may be a demand for resources in this area, rather than in curriculum maths.

MEDEV findings on use of OERs by staff and students: a repeating theme was that an individual teacher should decide if the material was fit for intended purpose by reviewing the resource.

C-Change: some evidence of a broad demand for level 1 materials, and a specialist (narrower) demand for level 3 and m level materials.

TRUE: evidence of much more demand and willingness to re-use in some sub-topics than others; e.g. heterodox economics – ” ‘academics who feel excluded from the mainstream of economics teaching’ ” – seem v willing to share and showcase.

Can we see a pattern in relation to granularity of materials and reuse/repurposing?

Findings from projects

Adopters and adapters may have different requirements.

FETLAR: The ‘bran tub’ of resources is of limited value without expertise in how best to help learners navigate them (as well-designed learning software does). This means considering integration of resources with assessment, and ease of assembly into learning tasks, patterns, designs etc Quote:” ‘more fundamental and will need more than practice I think, namely connecting the right ‘digital assets’ and/or ‘learning objects’ with the ‘learning activities’ … . To some extent, I am coming to realise how much I have depended on the structure provided for me by CALMAT’ ”

C-Change: Material aimed at the end-learner tends to be bundled into sessions, units of learning, or even modules. Materials aimed at teachers may be more granular, to allow for ‘pick and mix’. This difference is reflected within the OU OpenLearn repository where the ‘Learning Space’ user (most probably a learner) is encouraged to work through all the material, and the ‘Lab Space’ user (most probably a teacher) is invited to pick and mix from within a range of smaller resources.

CORE-materials quote: “Having lots of small ‘bite-sized’ materials is just what I need from your [CORE-Materials] website for enhancing my lectures and tutorials… It is also great that all legal aspects have been sorted out, so I do not need to worry about future copyright. Your resources are certainly free and open.”

How much is use influenced by the subject, topic or sub-discipline, or by the type of resources released?

Findings from projects

There were clear differences between projects – based on discipline needs and practices – in terms of the kind of content released and the ways in which it was described, hosted, and made available. However, there were also some surprisingly similar solutions across very different subjects. For example, both FETLAR (maths, stats, OR) and

Humbox (humanities) decided to release tools that would allow users to reaggregate resources to suit their own purposes, though in the first case this was to produce problem sets and assessments, and in the second case to produce topic-based collections of materials. Images and video were popular to share in many subjects, perhaps reflecting the greater investment in producing high quality resources of these types, and so the greater potential benefits from multiple use.


  • Level 3 and M-level materials are in demand because they are more specialised and difficult to find. However, the user base is much smaller.

FETLAR: maths is a self-contained community dealing with specialist materials: essential mathematical problems. It makes sense to release the tools they need to build new problems and assessments.

C-SAP: how learners approach knowledge and practice is more important than content: therefore it is at least as important to share contextualised understanding of learning and teaching practice in the social sciences, as to share content.

SimShare Legal: Simulations offer a pedagogically distinctive and valuable approach to learning. Barriers to wider use relate to the perceived and actual costs of development, and a lack of awareness and expertise. Both can be addressed by releasing simulations as OERs in formats that make re-use straightforward.

How is pedagogy manifested in content, if at all?

Findings from projects

Many projects grappled with the issue of whether and how to represent the pedagogic context of a resource. Solutions included:

  • keep it simple – users will decide
  • pedagogical ‘wrappers’ – contextualising information included in, around, or associated with resources
  • releasing complex resources such as simulations, learning objects, topic wikis etc in which smaller assets are given pedagogical structure and sense
  • using a taxonomy, and/or keywords in metadata, to make searching more pedagogically meaningful
  • comment facility – future users provide the pedagogic context by reviewing and commenting on resources

The incorporation of otherwise of pedagogic context is also a quality issue (does this raise the quality?) and a technical issue (what granularity? what metadata schema?)

SimShare Legal: depositors asked to provide additional information about each resource, for example, student role(s), support, staff time and run-time, to support re-use

C-Change:” ‘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.’ ”

OERP: Teaching materials are only one part of the educating process: the knowledge, wisdom, insights, anecdotes and teaching skill remain with the creator. Quote:” ‘Releasing resources (previously used to support to campus based students) is not without difficulties i.e. the context is missing, the rationale for the production of the resource is missing and the (typical) on-going dialogue about the resource is missing. This project really reinforced the notion that ‘resources’ are not always so standalone.’ ”


  • Releasing materials relating to a single module ensures pedagogic integrity and also carries the quality assurance of academic validation.
  • However, much about the context is taken for granted in existing materials. We would like to recommend a stronger emphasis on providing an explicit pedagogical rationale for repurposed materials in order to support re-use.
  • In social science subjects, it is the activities and context around the materials which carries the learning forward. Therefore OER-CSAP was interested in sharing and re-interpreting practice around materials, as much as making materials themselves available for sharing and re-use.

In what ways, if at all, do learning and teaching practices (need to) change when OERs are widely available? What skills/literacies do staff and students need to adapt to using and creating content in an open way?

Findings from projects

Humbox: OER develops thinking about teaching and learning in a general sense. Future OER work should tie in with the development of relevant pedagogic frameworks and approaches.

OERP: OER will not flourish until the practice is embedded into the training for new lectures. By introducing the techniques and highlighting the existence of the resources to new entrants to academia, the prospect of reusing (and re-releasing) resources become more appealing and more widespread. Quote:” ‘thinking [about OER] has been useful in terms of me re-considering how my own students engage with resources away from the classroom.’ ”

FETLAR: Staff need a better understanding and appreciation of Web2 capabilities

MEDEV findings on staff:

  • Searching online was most common when designing teaching materials that are further away from the creator’s academic background, where they do not have access to an existing collection of resources.
  • Typically, participants created the core content of a learning resource from traditional

sources e.g. textbooks and then looked online for images or videos to “tart it up”, enhance the student’s enjoyment and understanding.

On students:

  • some may look at the URL for a resource to identify those created by academics (i.e. from an or .edu web site)
  • students used ‘Star’ rating systems to preferentially view resources (particularly if a search returned many resources) and to vote for useful material. ‘Thumbs up/down’ system was also used.
  • students seem to use more sources and a wider range than do their teachers
  • their search strategies appear to be similar to those of their teachers, with most preferring initially to use a simple search box: however, students did appear to be more informed about constructing search queries, which might reflect the instruction many would have had as part of library skills training.
  • students reported regularly sharing knowledge about good resources with their peers using word of mouth, via email, or through specific collaboration tools such as when working in a small group on a shared task.

SimShare Legal: evidence from workshops that staff need particular skills and support to be comfortable developing, uploading and re-using simulations for learning.

Project outputs and evidence

Most projects note that user evaluation ‘in the field’ will have to wait until the resources have been available for longer.

PHORUS evaluation: are resources being used by PH community and are they found to be appropriate?


  • case studies of adoption and use
  • feedback from workshops with users
  • report on commentary from early adopters.
  • report on level and nature of access to resources

OERP feedback from workshops


  • OER testing and feedback from staff and learners from a range of partners: team surveys, user logs and participant observation techniques.
  • user testing of technical developments: ‘taxonomy matrix’, faceted search facility and user interfaces


TRUE: surveys of potential end-users to investigate: Are the resources of value to academics in the specialist area? How flexible are the resources? How easy are they to access? Do the resources promote research-informed teaching?

S4S: evidence of resource use (download statistics and comments) C-Change:

  • evidence of new/enhanced/transformed pedagogic approaches in relation to release and re-use of OERs (in climate change topics)
  • feedback from workshops and resource users


  • evaluation report on deployment and use of materials at chosen site: (‘extent to which the deposited resources facilitate the creation of on-line learning activities to fulfil real learning designs’).
  • review of e-supported delivery of maths at UK education levels 6 and 7, and creation of a set of use cases against which to assess materials.

Bioscience: feedback from users via interviews

SIMShare Legal:

  • feedback on use of simulations; case studies from different depts; evidence of learners’ and tutors’ perceptions and patterns of use.
  • review of the ways that simulation is used across a range of educational areas
  • evidence from dissemination events that at least 10 other institutions are seeking to integrate the open educational simulation resources into different curricula

OER MEDEV: Resource discovery toolkit