What do we mean by ‘sustainability’?
Sustainability in relation to OER is closely linked to the business model or approach that an individual, group or institution adopts to release, manage and support OER. It is not just about sustaining existing OER but about embedding processes and transforming practices to support ongoing OER production and release.
Sustainability is often linked to funding models because many OER initiatives have been seeded with significant amounts of money. Most funding bodies include a requirement to describe ongoing sustainability once project funding has finished. The UK Jisc HE Academy UKOER programme did this and all projects have had to address the issue of ongoing sustainability.
Projects adopted a range of OER release models but most acknowledged the importance of giving content creators/producers a lead role with guidance, training and support from others with more technical or legal knowledge or experience. The resulting cross-institution, cross-subject community and cross-professional dialogue is having a significant impact on sustainability as new networks and knowledge practices emerge.
A meeting was held in May 2010 at Leeds Metropolitan University which focused on sustainability and one outcome is an Open University Cloud on OERs and sustainability: the Leeds Manifesto. This provides links to a range of presentations on OER and sustainability, a draft manifesto on sustainability and an ongoing discussion which includes people who were not at the meeting.
Factors affecting sustainability – what makes your approach sustainable?
Different approaches could be argued to be more sustainable than others – clearly if project funding supported a post with a central role – such as checking provenance and clearing copyright – this activity will need to be covered if the post disappears when project funding ended. Many institutionally-led UKOER projects made efforts to include a commitment to OER within institutional strategies and policies (a significant factor in ongoing sustainability), staff training (including PGCHE courses), supporting academic champions within faculties/schools, and strong guidance and support mechanisms.
UKOER projects adopted a range of OER release models but most acknowledged the importance of giving content creators/producers a lead role with guidance, training and support from others with more technical or legal knowledge or experience. Projects supported an unusual level of communication across central services and academic schools, as well as across subject and professional communities and with stakeholders outside the sector, and the resulting cross-institution, cross-subject community and cross-professional dialogue is expected to have a significant impact on sustainability as new networks, and knowledge practices emerge.
In order to develop a sustainable model for OER production and use, openSpace’s publishing strategy will incorporate OE students and HEI institutions wishing to make use of the specialist Art, Design, Media & Performance OE platform. Creating a community of learners, or social learning space, is an important component for the sustainability of the pilot.
Open source electronics learning tools project final report
The Good intentions report highlighted that the development of Communities of Practice around open learning and teaching materials was highly likely to impact on sustainability through the development of networks of people sharing practice and content. Utilising existing communities or networks is likely to be even more sustainable as the members are likely to have already identified common understandings, languages and cultures.
The pilot programme in 2009 effectively tested out this model, by utilising the HE Academy subject centres. This provided important support mechanisms and infrastructure which was later lost when subject centres were disbanded, which is likely to impact on long term sustainability of both technical systems like repositories and community maintenance and support. Despite this loss some later projects also adopted a community-based model similar lines.
Stakeholders and their impact on sustainability
Effective understanding of the various stakeholder groups, particularly in relation to perceptions around benefits and challenges, has a considerable impact on ‘buy-in’ or engagement of the groups – and on long term sustainability which relies on input from these groups. This is highly likely to require substantial cultural change – this may be institutional culture, departmental culture or subject community culture.
This requires considerable ongoing effort and commitment, with an emphasis on involving a wide range of staff, providing training and support and encouraging new ways of communicating and working together. Taking advantage of support at a strategic management level can be very useful to obtain ‘buy-in’ from others within an institution. A good example of this is the BERLiN project at the University of Nottingham who produced a podcast of vice-chancellor talking about U-Now and open learning at Nottingham.
Sustainability is only possible when you have engaged enough people in a positive way. Ideally these people need to represent your varied stakeholder groups. Persuading these stakeholders of the benefits of OER will impact on longer term sustainability. The levels of transformational change required by most educational institutions to embed open practice in relation to their learning and teaching materials requires a long term approach as this kind of change takes considerable time and investment. UKOER projects describe sustainability plans in their final reports.