As very small children we are taught that it’s good to share and as adults, academics get lots of recognition when they do share their teaching resources openly. Initiatives like the HEFCE-funded UKOER programme, Open Education Week and OER13 all remind us of the positive outcomes that sharing can bring, and not to dwell too much on our own insecurities such as “Why should I share my resources? Or “My materials aren't good enough to share”.
I feel that educational establishments have been driving the development of OERs. The need to make quality education more accessible and flexible for all has led to the development of some highly creative, richly layered resources. And as the OER movement continues to gain ground, institutions will need to make sure they keep up – if they don’t make their resources available as openly as possible online there’s a real risk that other people will, hijacking the benefits of wider reach and enhanced reputation for themselves.
At last year’s United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation meeting it was interesting to see education experts meeting to discuss the potential of OERs. Their aim was to use them to expand the global knowledge economy and help re-ignite economic growth. And if OERs can potentially bring high quality, post-school education to the world’s able but disadvantaged, who knows what else they might have to offer in other areas?
I'm really encouraged to see how those outside of the academic community are making use of the rapid development of free online resources made available through platforms like Moodle. These make it much easier for people outside of our academic community, and perhaps with limited technical know-how, to start sharing too.
For a long time now, members of the academic OER community have been enthusiastic about discovering ways to make sure open resources can help the third sector. In my experience organisations working in the third sector and with adult learning communities have been quick to recognise that e-learning is a cost-effective and efficient way to engage and inform staff, service users and supporters. The resources help to retain interest and boost learning and development. The flexibility of the resources enables people to learn where and when they can fit it into their schedules, to work at their own pace, and to personalise their own learning experience.
With little or no budget to develop online resources progress in this area has actually been quite slow. But, with the availability of free tools and the increasingly widespread use of Facebook and Twitter these organisations are now able to develop effective and well-targeted resources, especially when working collaboratively.
Mimas’ Laura Skilton, our Jorum Business Development manager has recently been involved in what might seem like an unlikely partnership between Mimas and animal charity Cats Protection. She has worked closely with Cats Protection’s Lisa Barry and the charity’s veterinary team on developing an openly licensed online course called Understanding Feline Origins. This also involved setting up a Virtual Learning Environment called Cats Protection LearnOnline which was based on the Moodle platform.
Understanding Feline Origins offers authoritative, but accessible information on how and why cats behave as they do, and advice on how to treat and live with them optimally, following a pedagogically sound and user-tested approach.
The use of this type of technology is relatively new for the third sector and well worth a look. The project actually won a Charity Learning Consortium award for innovation at the end of 2012. If any other charities are interested in the work they can now explore ways to develop the model.
If you’d like to find out more about how e-learning can help third sector organisations to train staff and engage supporters try this Guardian article.
If you would like to set up your own Virtual Learning Environment why not have a look at our Jisc Toolkit or get in touch with the Learning and Teaching team at Mimas.
Watch the introductory video for Understanding Feline Origins: