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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Making a case for creating Open Educational Resources for use in Higher Education

To set the scene we'll start with a useful and pragmatic definition of Open Educational Resources from Stephen Downes (although he does not support the idea of an 'official' definition) – Read more here
"Open educational resources are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone."


Inspiration for this post was attendance at the one day MEDEV workshop From curiosity to confidence: sharing what it takes to ‘go open’ with learning and teaching resources. Keynote speaker Kieran McGlade (Queen’s University Belfast) kicked off proceedings with an Introduction to open educational resources (OERs) and open educational practice (OEP). Megan Quentin-Baxter (MEDEV) and Jane Williams (University of Bristol) prompted useful discussion not just on copyright issues in relation to OERs but also on the very important ethical question of consent (i.e consent of lecturers, participants and patients for the re-use and distribution of OERs).

Brigham Young University faculty survey seeks to advance open education through academic libraries
Image Courtesy of opensourceway under the CC 2.0 SA licence

Sangeetha Rajoo and Caesar Wek (Both, Queen Mary University London) demonstrated the good work that they have done creating open educational resources and outlined their approaches and the issues that they have come across. In the final session of the morning Paul Scott (Hull York Medical School) gave an important insight into institutional approaches to developing OERs, emphasizing the importance of planning early from the beginning to ensure all resources do not infringe copyright and that consent is obtained before the creation of resources.

Suzanne Hardy (MEDEV) rounded off the session in the afternoon with many practical tips and advice on tools to use that will aid the development of OERs.

Further Reading

With a business hat on one of the prime motives quoted to justify the creation of OERs is that it is good marketing for the institution and it allows the institution and/or the individual to showcase their skills and knowledge, enhance their reputation and encourage students onto the standard regular courses and programmes that are offered. This may be so, however I have not been overly convinced about the cost effectiveness and sustainability of this approach for the institution and the effectiveness of OERS in being re-used and re-adapted for teaching and learning.

To help improve my understanding and come to an effective rationale to make the case for creating Open Educational Resources for use in Higher Education and beyond I’ve also recently read two articles on the topic. i) Positioning the OER Business Model for Open Education and ii) Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices.

Accepting there are merits in the motivation mentioned above, for me it is not yet clear if this alone is a strong enough basis for a Strong OER commitment that fits into the overall strategy of a Higher Education institution and further how it fits in with the notion of still trying to gain competitive advantage over other Institutions who you are collaborating with in a spirit of altruistic educational endeavour. I probably need to examine in more detail the philosophy and ‘success’ of an institution like MIT with their renowned open courseware (OCW) programme (See MIT’s Presidents message about OCW), but attendance at the workshop combined with the further reading has helped me to crystallize a number of reasons that will help make the case for institutional backing for creating and developing open educational resources for use in Higher Education.

The First Argument

The first argument is that as a leading educational institution it is in the public good to share knowledge globally for the benefit of citizens of the world. To quote Susan Oldfield from the MIT OCW website “We do not yet know the full potential of OCW and its ultimate impact on global education. But it is clear to us that by thinking of knowledge as a public good for the benefit of all, and acting on this philosophy through OpenCourseWare, we can make a difference”.

Clustr Map for the Global Education Collaborative Community 11.28.2009 Image Courtesy of elemenous under the CC 2.0 SA licence

The early pioneers had an obvious passion for this and for many others they may just need some encouragement by other practising colleagues to convince them that contributing to global education is a wonderful thing.

To stiffen this mentality up it could be argued especially in the UK that given that lecturers and the institution are funded in large part by the public purse then lecturers are honour bound to spread their educational resources to the wider public.

Belief in the value of Open Educational Practice is the Key

Open Educational Practice when defined is often closely intertwined with Open Educational Resources, for me it is much wider than that. It is sharing and engaging widely and openly. It involves network learning and making use of all the wonderful social networking tools at our disposal to engage and connect with other people on a local, national and global basis. This video Community as Curriculum and Open Learning from Dave Cormier and this video Networked Student from Wendy Drexler best help to explain the concept.

UNH Talk Slide17 Image Courtesy of bgblogger under the CC 2.0 NC licence

Many individual lecturers in Higher Education especially at this time may question the mentality of embracing an open educational ethos and making resources that they create free, open and available for use and re-use by both teachers and students. To persuade unconvinced staff, to me it is essential that staff first buy into the notion of open educational practice. Once convinced, the notion of creating open educational resources will naturally become part of the open educational mindset.

Having myself been exposed to the open educational concept primarily through the great connectivist movement (see what is connectivism?)  my own sharing behaviour has been changed as I have been convinced by the enlightened early believers of the merits  of being an active participant in a wider national and international open learning community. The massive educational benefits I have freely received has encouraged me to contribute my own knowledge skills, ideas and opinions freely and openly thus playing my part in helping others, as others have helped me.

We need to emphasize that the materials are free and open in the context of education and are for non-commercial gain with you the creator maintaining control of all aspects of copyright including accreditation and sharing and re-use restrictions. This is ideally done using a Creative Commons license, but part of the preparation will include ensuring all material used has no copyright restrictions and that ethical, moral and legal consent for the inclusion of third parties in for example video resources is obtained.

Mitigating the effort of creating OERs

I question the cost effectiveness and the sustainability because it is not monetarily cheap to produce sophisticated specific resources or timewise cheap to adapt and prepare materials for use as an OER. However, if you are persuaded by the need to act in the public good, the obligation to make the most of your publicly funded time or you really can see the massive advantages of giving and receiving open educational resources and sharing knowledge and ideas as part of a global education community, then with some preparation and clear intent at the outset the job of creating OERs for use in your regular teaching and learning and then for further sharing and re-use can be made easier in a number of ways. Consider the following:

1. Within most Higher Education institutions there will be an OER Champion. It will be important to work with them and within your own institutional guidelines and policies. There are many legal and ethical issues to consider. Your OER Champion mindful of the circumstances at your institution will be able to offer time saving guidance and advice and possibly a clear checklist of things you need to do to prepare resources for open educational use.

2. Addressing key legal and ethical issues mentioned above before starting development of an OER will include i) ensuring that you are the copyright holder or that you have copyright clearance to offer certain material  within an OER ii) clearly stating the terms upon which you as copyright holder will allow the OER to be used, shared or re-used (a creative commons license makes this a simple process) and iii) gaining consent of participants in OERs before creation of said OERs (and with a clear explanation as to its purpose and use).

3. With an OEP mindset you’ll be more inclined to take advantage of OERs produced by others. Your eyes will be opened to a wealth of material freely available. This will inspire you to understand what is possible and encourage you to contribute yourself when the time is right.

4. There are many free tools out there to help not only the development of OERs but resources for your own regular teaching and learning. Once again opening your mind to these tools will further encourage you to understand that with good planning and preparation making resources available freely and openly for use and re-use although requiring some effort may not be too onerous a task.

Practical Help

During the MEDEV workshop Suzanne Hardy signposted some great tools for sourcing open educational resources during the workshop.  Some useful tools highlighted are listed here.

OERs in Action

Here are a couple of useful examples of OERs that i am familiar with:

And Finally Dissemination

There will be many OER Repositories such as Jorum to upload your resources too, but if you want to try and spread the word about your OERs far and wide this search engine optimisation guidelines article by Dr Vivien Rolfe and Dr Simon Griffin uses the DMU Sickle Cell Anaemia project mentioned earlier to illustrate a step by step approach to gaining maximum exposure for your resources.
PS:If you don't know where to start with connectivist teaching and learning, contact me and i'll suggest a suitable starting point.

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