OER release is as much a business decision as it is a teaching and learning or academic pursuit. The JISC/HE Academy UK OER programme (2009-2012) provided funding and support for projects to release OER and to investigate a range of issues affecting educational institutions, individual teachers, learners and organisations from other sectors.
The lessons learned, approaches adopted and barriers overcome by these projects offer models and guidance to support wider release in the UK. A condition of funding was that institutions should reconsider strategy and policy documents affecting the release of open learning materials.
One interesting outcome was that institution-led projects tended towards the conclusion that OER release should be incorporated into existing strategies and policies to signal that OER release and use is an integral part of existing activities, an approach that supports ongoing sustainability and embedding into practice. Most institutions involved in the programme had to reconsider a range of existing strategies to incorporate OER release, including IPR and copyright policies, teaching, learning and assessment strategies, access and widening participation, quality assurance policies, IT strategies and marketing strategies.
However some institutions did choose to develop specific OER policies (either at institutional, faculty or departmental level) which can act as a strong signal to staff of the institutional commitment to open release of learning materials.
'Using SCOOTER as a vehicle to lead cultural changes has begun. The draft OER@DMU Policy puts many important considerations in place, and includes 'how to enable staff'.
By aligning the OER policy with DMU Strategic Vision and the University Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, this gives the message that it is OK to proceed, a concern raised in staff feedback: ‘Needs encouraging with permissions given via an institutional policy.’'
Work is also being undertaken to embed OER activities in the department’s five-year strategic plan and its access and widening participation strategy and, as part of this work, we will develop a departmental OER strategy statement.
Sesame final report
See also the OER Policy Registry on the Creative Commons wiki which links to policies of organisations from around the world, including the UK.
OER initiatives can raise interesting questions for institutions around where the responsibility lies within an institution for aspects relating to legal issues, risk management, accessibility and quality of open content. In many institutions this responsibility may be scattered across faculties or departments and might have to be reconsidered if an institution-wide approach is adopted. Essentially OER initiatives are about institutional change and require appropriate approaches and support to help staff adjust to changes in culture that may seem very threatening. Academic practice change was a significant focus across the three year programme.
UKOER projects invested significant energy and resource into engaging and supporting staff to consider OER release and use, with central team support emerging as an important aspect of this work. Reward and recognition (not necessarily financial) was seen as crucial so linking OER to staff development and performance review activities were also seen as important for embedding practice change. Sustainability (and embedding) was addressed in many ways as appropriate to each institutional context and included:
- Development of new staff roles and positions
- Cascading good practice through champions
- Obtaining senior management support
- Linking OER and OEP with staff digital literacy activities
- Linking OER to strategy, policy and existing processes
- Staff development activities
- Establishing and maintaining communities of practice (sometimes across institutions)
'A consideration of the time and cost of OER creation is a useful first step in addressing academic needs and these need to be balanced against the various benefits for different stakeholders.'
The OECD ‘Giving knowledge for free’ report (2007) addresses managers of higher education institutions as well as strategists and decision makers on international, national and intermediate level. It provides a comprehensive overview of OER and the challenges it poses for higher education. It examines reasons for individuals and institutions to share resources for free, and looks at copyright issues, sustainability and business models as well as policy implications.
Advice to managers of higher education institutions includes the need to have an information technology strategy which includes the way the institution will manage the opportunities and threats presented by the OER movement, and it suggests strategies to embrace the opportunities which, not surprisingly, focus significantly on supporting staff to adapt to the impending changes.