Concerns around the quality of OER have been significant in educational institutions deciding whether or not to openly release their teaching and learning materials. Releasing these materials exposes institutions in a new way and individual staff can feel unsure that their materials will compare well with other staff within their institution or their subject discipline.
Quality can be applied in both a technical and pedagogical sense – and both are relevant. Release of OER at an institutional level provides an opportunity for existing quality measures to be reconsidered/evaluated and can also open up useful dialogue across the institution that may not have happened previously.
What does ‘quality’ mean?
It is difficult to specify precisely what ‘quality’ means in the context of OER, where discoverability, accessibility and availability are at least as important as the production values they embody. There is a difference in emphasis with OER release in that third parties are actively encouraged to re-use, re-purpose and remix the resources. This, OER advocates claim, leads to higher standards when a long view is taken.
However, the issue remains that the quality of learning resources is usually determined using the following lenses:
- Reputation of author/institution
- Standard of technical production
- Fitness for purpose
'The quality of the resource – as an OER – should be higher, in that it has been built to a more robust and transferable OER specification.'
Bioscience project final report
The issue of trust is an important factor in OER, Wikipedia being an obvious example. Whilst it is possible to abuse trust around OER licences, the community aspect and the inherent iterative model would provide some type of safeguard in the long-term. As explained in the cultural considerations section, such aspects need to be considered when considering OER release.
Where educational resources are produced using other models (particularly within institutional contexts), OER release should be subject to an ongoing quality assurance (QA) process. Given the nature of OER and the community aspect, this QA process should be transparent and fair with input from a variety of stakeholders. Initiatives such as OER Africa state explicitly that it is not the role of any one organization to perform QA on OER. Instead, they indicate that QA will occur as a result of:
- Self-assessment (individuals and institutions release resources of highest quality possible)
- Internal QA processes (institutions to QA their own resources before release)
- Rating systems (community-driven QA through ratings and comments within OER release platform)
- Individual review (comments and suggestions made by individuals and institutions)
This emergent system of QA is explained by WikiEducator both verbally and visually:
'In education, quality is more about the process than a product. Most open developments start as a first draft — the expression of an idea. Through repeated iterations and refinements, and collaboration from the [community] the quality of individual projects improve over time.'
The Jisc/HE Academy UKOER programme (2009-2012) provided funding and support to enable individuals, subject communities and institutions to openly release existing materials and to investigate issues around release, use and re-use. Issues of quality featured highly throughout the three year period with increasing recognition that there is room for both high quality, well packaged and costly institutionally branded materials (Big OER) and smaller, lower quality, lower cost chunks (Little OER), with the latter widely accepted as being more amenable to re-purposing.
Quality was a significant feature in early stakeholder engagement activities as individuals expressed concerns about the quality of their own materials and opening their materials up to scrutiny and judgement by peers. One way to allay these fears was to offer ‘staged openness’, where individuals were given the choice of how open their ‘OER’ were and who to make them open to initially. Despite fears of staff engaging with OER initially, the notion of open peer and student review of OER featured strongly in both institutional and community released OER and was often incorporated into the OER themselves. This was seen as an important way to ensure quality.