'The Senior Tutor of the School of Biosciences brought to our attention that school‘s practice of publishing the best undergraduate projects from each year. He was familiar with matters such as copyright and consent and allowed us to use these projects as BERLiN material.
The inclusion of final year student content is an encouraging and exciting development, providing powerful and rewarding promotional opportunities for students and the institution alike.'
BERLiN project, University of Nottingham, Biosciences undergraduate research at Nottingham (BURN)
OER are produced to support learning and teaching and may even be created as part of learning and teaching processes. Content created by students during learning activities could potentially form part of OER which raises considerable questions around ownership and attribution. It is anticipated that student created content will be increasingly used to augment OER, and this has been a significant feature of the Jisc/HE Academy UKOER programme.
Whilst it seems obvious to state that OER are fundamentally about learning and teaching, it is interesting to note that many of the people involved in the OER movement come from very different parts of the educational community. Indeed, OER are often used as a marketing tools through such channels as iTunesU and the OpenCourseWare Consortium. However, much of the impetus comes from those supporting learning and teaching through technology and particularly those involved in the world of online learning and teaching repositories.
A significant driver for the OER movement has been the altruistic notion that educational resources should be available to all. This has been backed by national funders wishing to make their investment relevant to as wide a part of the community as possible. This can lead to tensions between teachers, who often have to respond to wider initiatives and directives, and those responding to funding calls.
Some teachers have led the way and see clear benefits to making their teaching materials open, whilst others fear the burden of the extra work involved and are cautious for a range of reasons. The choice of OER licence can reflect the level of caution of some academic staff releasing their material for the first time. See the Intellectual Property Rights considerations section for more information on licensing.
The UKOER programme identified staff training and support as being key to supporting teachers to openly release their content and has developed some excellent workshop and guidance materials. Projects invested considerable effort into raising awareness and educating a wide range of people as to the benefits of open release to the different stakeholder groups.
Participants in the UKOER programme began to embrace the wider notion of Open Educational Practice (OEP) and saw OER release and use as part of a bigger picture. Practice change has been an important aspect of the programme, and projects have identified a range of barriers and enablers to help individual academic staff to engage and change their own practices.
Open courses, and the rise in interest in this area through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) phenomenon, are bringing a disruptive element to the educational landscape. Opening up existing courses can provide an excellent opportunity to investigate these aspects and transform existing practice. One UKOER project at the University of Coventry (COMC) adopted such an experimental approach and offers an interesting and successful alternative model to MOOCs. They provided evidence that adopting an open course approach can have both a significant positive impact on the student experience and a transformative impact on how educators perceive their roles.
'Each Open Class is working with a slightly different emphasis, different process of content generation and a distinctive balance of media/platforms; but all students have very actively contributed and participated. This is evidenced within each of the Open Class sites. The staff have also been very highly engaged with these projects. All the sites have a richer range depth and mix of resources than has been the case with conventional modules.'
COMC final report
Different educational providers
It is worth noting that different sectors in the educational community have very different organisational cultures and institutional practices, which have had a significant impact on approaches to sharing, using and re-purposing learning resources. Common curricular and assessment practices appear to make it easier to share.
Whilst it would appear that UK primary and secondary schools, with their adherence to a national curriculum, standardised assessment regime and time-poor staff would embrace the notion of OER, this has not generally been the case. Whilst there is very much a culture of sharing both resources and good practice, a deliberate programme of repository creation and OER release has not happened.
Instead, there are numerous, informal, subject-specific communities of practice that provide channels for the dissemination of educational resources. Phase 3 of the UKOER programme included three projects that worked with schools and these found that focusing on digital literacies proved effective in getting school teachers to embrace the notion of open educational practice (Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT), ORBIT, HALS OER)
The UK further education (FE) sector has national frameworks to support curricula and assessment. This community appears to be more culturally inclined to use publicly funded resource collections such as the NLN materials, and the FERL website (now incorporated into the Adult Learning Inspectorate’s good practice database). The common assessment framework in Scotland contributes towards the fact that Scottish Colleges has recently launched (November 2012) an open community repository Re:Source (linked to Jorum) to support open sharing.
By contrast many of the UK Higher Education (HE) Institutions balance the needs of research with teaching and several diverse cultures operate within one organisation. Some subject disciplines have common professional frameworks and staff may have more connection with their subject community than with colleagues from their own organisation.
Several HE institutions have developed research repositories in an attempt to manage and preserve their institutional research outputs and some of these are looking to expand these to include learning and teaching materials. The UKOER programme provides some excellent examples of this and lessons learned by these projects provide an interesting contrast between an institutional approach to releasing OER and the issues raised by the subject communities.
Use of OERs
Much of the literature relating to OER focus on OER release practices – how they are developed/created, stored, managed and made available. Issues of funding, sustainability and affordances of the various models are well documented. What is lacking in the literature is clear evidence of how these resources are used, and by who. Many OER/OCW services count the number of downloads but few can identify who is downloading them and how they are being used. This is perhaps quite surprising that so many services release content without a clear understanding of how the consumers will use it. It is not safe to assume that people who produce/release OER are also users of other’s OER.
There is a clear need to clarify which groups (learners, registered students, other teachers) are using OER and how (formal, informal, etc.) these resources are being used/re-purposed. One of the key questions for those who aim to release OER is whether to include pedagogic content (such as contextual information about how and when to use the resources) or to allow the user to define/add pedagogic context at the point of use. Finding out how people use different kinds of content, of varying granularity will help to inform these decisions.
Terminology around OER is not universally meaningful or recognisable and we may sometimes be asking people the wrong questions. Where staff report no engagement with OER they often describe using third party materials in their teaching. This demonstrates the ‘iceberg of OER use’ described in OER: the value of reuse in education, a study commissioned during phase 2 of the UKOER Programme, which found that most sharing and reuse happens informally and below the surface.
Use and reuse of OER, strictly defined as content that is openly licensed and consciously reused as such, is a small sub-set of the whole. Practice below the surface may actually become harder to research as awareness of open content spreads, because there is a greater awareness that online content may be ‘risky’ or inappropriate to use.
An interesting comparison for how OER can be used, re-used and remixed is that of cows milk production, illustrated in the OER myths section. The intent is not to equate OER with commercial products but to encourage a consideration of how the different roles within that model mirrors that of people involved in OER production, release and use.