My summary of the JISC OER Programme Phase 2 Synthesis and Evaluation Summary

In my role at JISC infoNet I support the JISC Open Educational Resources programme. Phase 3 of this programme has just begun, with the synthesis and evaluation report from Phase 2 now available (authored by Lou McGill, Helen Beetham, Isobel Falconer and Allison Littlejohn).

It’s my feeling that not enough people read these, so I’m going to summarise the summary. It will, of course, be partial and miss out some important stuff, so I’d encourage you to go and read the original!

Evidence is accumulating that teachers do share content informally, but do not necessarily consider IPR, or share resources openly. Thus they are engaging in some of the practices associated with OER, but they do not necessarily recognise OER terminology, and in asking about use/reuse of OER we may be asking the wrong questions.

I think there’s a need to move away from the jargon ‘OER’ towards just ‘open content’.

While the current economic climate may promote efficiency as a motive for open release and sharing, the costs involved, and government encouragement of a competitive HE culture, mitigated against this.

It’s a curious situation we’re in: universities are supposed to ‘collaborate to compete’.

While community trust and positive recognition are clear motivators, the lack of such trust and the fear of negative recognition - content ‘not being good enough,’ being thought to be putting oneself forward by releasing material that has not been peer-reviewed, or laying the producer open to legal scrutiny - are barriers to making release of open sustainable.

This is a systemic problem but one which, hopefully, should diminish over time if open practice is seen as the way forward by younger members of staff.

When other resources are freely available for re-use and teacher awareness of IPR is low there is little incentive to use OER, especially if a google search finds relevant resources more easily than does a search of an OER repository.

There’s a huge issue around discoverability and user experience that I know Jorum are addressing (for example).

There is evidence that the openness of resources is promoting wider stakeholder engagement and community and network building… Increasingly projects have talked about the importance of broader activities around OERs -  community networking, curriculum development and student engagement.

This is Open Educational Practice, something OER3 is addressing specifically.

Several projects comment that working across boundaries to develop project outcomes (business/community/academy, staff/consultants, students/teachers) has been one of the most radical aspect of their experience and has the potential to change practice more widely

Whilst it’s not the end of subject disciplines (yet!) there is a need to break down the very artificial silos that exist. Open Educational Practice allows this to happen much more readily and quickly.

Cascade strand projects noted that choice of search engine affected which resources were found and used, while collections projects found that their users expected searches to be “google-like” in their ease of use, personalisation, and production of relevant results. Users expressed frustration with the search functionality of many OER repositories. They were also disappointed in the scarcity of relevant OERs, a finding echoed by the release strand PORSCHE project. Most of the collections projects decided to include “grey” or “non” OERs to get round this problem - while clearly labelling them so that their non-licensed status was clear.

See comments above about ‘discoverability’. The debate about whether to include ‘grey’ material into repositories is a flamewar I don’t really want to get into…

An issue emerging during this phase included uncertainties around the meaning of commercial use and the impact of this relating to CC license choice. John Roberston from JISC CETIS has generated some interesting discussion around this in relation to choice of CC licenses in his technical synthesis blog post) and Amber Thomas, JISC provides an  excellent description of issues realting to licensing for phase 2 of ukoer in the ‘Importance of licensing section’ of her OER turn blog post

I think it’s the opinion of most people in the world of OER that using the NC (or ‘Non-Commercial’) part of the Creative Commons license is pretty much meaningless. Studies have shown (I should find a link to go here!) that using the least restrictive licensing increases reuse.

In some disciplines, sharing practice through a range of open technologies has emerged as important as sharing resources, and is having an impact on the way subjects are being studied and taught. Considerations of OER use cannot be divorced from these wider changes to disciplinary knowledge practices. Social science subjects, for example, are being changed in radical ways by the availability of public social and research data online as well as the rise of new social/digital practices.

This is an important point. Open content, open access and open source software/technologies go hand-in-hand. It’s a whole ecosystem.

Institutional readiness for OER can become evident through strategic level approaches and senior buy-in. Projects’ view that strategic vision was an essential factor was reflected in attention to institutional strategies and policies. Generally it was felt that strategic buy-in could ensure the development of an infrastructure to enable staff engagement and contribute to longer term sustainability.

Every project and programme says how important it is to get senior level buy-in. What I like here is the reasons for doing so are articulated: improved staff engagement and longer-term sustainability.

Alongside a strategic ‘top-down’ vision was the notion of institutional readiness at ‘ground level’.  Projects described open educational practices emerging at an individual or departmental level, or being embedded into professional activities in a low-key way.

Cultural change doesn’t just come from the top of an organization, of course. Emergent practices can be rubber-stamped by senior management. Top-down AND bottom-up.

Findings from this phase confirm those from the phase 1 institutional strand, that there are different cultures of openness at different educational institutions. This is not as simple as a single dimension from closed to open: rather there are many different ways in which institutions can support open educational practices and start to move towards more open policies in relation to educational resources.

Different cultures, and therefore different cultures of openness is a reason why a successful project can’t simply be replicated in a different environment. It’s an iterative process that will take some trial-and-error.

In some senses it is easier to sustain support mechanisms (such as repositories, quality assurance processes or curriculum design practices) than maintaining and encouraging staff engagement at an institution-wide level. Staff awareness, engagement and support for ongoing staff involvement was seen by most projects as crucial and, as in the pilot phase, staff development and training (capacity building), reward and recognition and maintaining  communities of practice emerged as important sustaining activities.

This is a really interesting point: it’s easier to support ‘things’ than engagement. There’s an ebb and flow to engagement that has to be respected.

Projects identified positive impacts for a range of different participants (academic staff, service staff, academic managers, students, stakeholders in other sectors) which were a direct result of involvement with an OER project, particularly increased awareness around open educational practices and increased opportunities or collaboration across institutions, sectors and subject disciplines.Projects also celebrated increased literacies of staff involved in projects, particularly in relation to IPR and technical issues. Of note is the fact that several staff saw engagement with OER as having impact on their pedagogic practice and enhanced quality of their own learning resources. Such cultural impacts were supported and enabled by impacts on infrastructure and processes, such as enhanced policies and documentation for dealing with IPR, enhanced models and workflows for developing learning materials for open release, and technical developments including new repositories, repository and development tools.

Here’s the real meat! These are the benefits of OER identified by the JISC projects. :-)

In the learning and teaching area also, a sense emerged of activities around the OERs being as important as the OERs themselves and their potential to encourage ‘pedagogically infomed use' (SWAP) - ie good learning and teaching practice (open practices). How OERs are integrated into curriculum processes can depend on the way they have been developed or presented. Projects generally produced OERs for a particular subject discipline area, sector or student group and this impacted on intended use.

As I mentioned above, Open Educational Practice is the next big thing. Openly licensing content works in changing the culture of an institution and even a subject discipline. Now we need to expand the circle to include other components of the landscape such as open access journals.

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#ukoer Phase 2 final report now available!

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The guidelines indicate how the potential of OER can be harnessed to support quality teaching and learning by higher education stakeholders, including governments, higher education institutions, teaching staff, students, and quality assurance, accreditation, and academic recognition authorities.”

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