Thursday, 28 March 2013

3 key issues for OERs

This post is my take on Activity 7, Week 2 – Exploring OER Issues.

First of all, I’ll list what I consider to be the 3 key issues in OER (from a Higher Education standpoint). I’ll then look at OER from a more subjective and informal perspective.

 1. Why OER?

In my view, there’s a need to be open and encourage debate about the question of why OER should be used. Instead of a headlong rush to use OER because it is fashionable to do so, or because MIT and Harvard are doing it, it makes sense to look at local context and to think about:

-        What is the current situation in terms of OER use at our institution?
-        Do we wish to support our staff to develop their own OERs (if so how are we going to do this)?
-        How do we support staff and students to effectively locate and use OERs?
-        Do we need to formalise the use of OERs in a particular course or subject area?
-        What is there to gain by creating OERs (both for the individual educator and for the institution)?

2. Quality

Many of the resources which find their way onto the OER repositories and portals are of questionable quality. If the time spent searching for good quality, reusable resources is too great, then the potential positive impact of integrating OERs into courses and other learning pathways is negated. In order to ensure quality, there needs to be a move away from the lone educator creating endless resources (perhaps not very well) towards a more collaborative approach. For example, within a Faculty, department or subject area it might be possible to follow certain steps:

a)     A resource is shared among teaching staff in a particular subject area for evaluation. This group of subject experts can judge the quality and effectiveness of the resource for their particular learning outcomes.
b)     Tried and tested resources can be put forward for entry into a (subject-specific?) OER repository.
c)     Any necessary tweaking/re-formatting can be done with the help of a learning technologist/e-learning expert.

The actual quality of the repositories and portals themselves is a further issue. In terms of usability these are frequently badly designed and will put off all but the most determined academic.

3.  Better OEP = better OER

Discussions about OER must be situated in a wider debate about OEP (Open Educational Practice). This seems to be the direction of much of the current research around OER (e.g. JISC OER Impact Study, OPAL , UKOER Synthesis & Evaluation Project)

How can staff be encouraged to develop more Open Educational Practices, including incorporating and developing OERs where appropriate? Can OEP be successfully incorporated into CPD (Continuing Professional Development frameworks?)
The diagram below illustrates some of the issues to consider with OEP:

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L. and Littlejohn, A. Open practices: briefing paper. JISC, 2012

For references see 'Shared by Jim Pettiward' : 

On a less formal note: 

What is an Open Educational Resource? 

Resource = something which can be used for a specific purpose. 
Open = available to anyone who cares to look for it, free of charge and can be modified, repurposed. Educational = ?  I think the difficulty comes with the word educational. Can’t almost anything be educational in a particular context? A primary school teacher might collect some leaves on the way to school, take them into the classroom and incorporate them into a lesson. Does this mean that leaves are OERs? What is educational for one student, may not be for another. Context is the key, hence the 'Reusability paradox'.

In some ways, I think that sharing of OERs at a local level is an important first step. This can work well, for example within one school or university, subject area or group of teaching staff (although even this can be very challenging – I remember spending endless amounts of time and patience trying to get a group of teachers simply to use the same file drive on a school system and name their files for other people to use if they wanted to – I often encountered the view that their resources were their own, they’d worked hard on them and didn’t see why they should share them if they didn’t get anything back). Once you try to take OERs beyond the boundaries and into the wider world then it becomes more complicated. First of all, there are the age old problems of standards (interoperability) and labelling. Most of my own searches for OERs from the larger repositories in the past have involved endless clicking through to resources and out again when realising that they are either:

a. really bad
b. totally inappropriate for my context or 
c. in some obscure format which I couldn’t work out how to open or save. 

I have only found good quality resources which I would use in my own teaching context on a few occasions. Having said that, I often use open resources which are not necessarily designed for education or labelled as such (little OERs?), what McAndrew (2012) calls ‘accidental OER software’, for example Youtube, Slideshare, ItunesU, Flickr etc.

Finally, Open Educational Practice is (for me) clearly the key to encouraging OER use and reuse, but in the current UK HE climate there are significant barriers to the development of OEP (and staff digital literacies more generally). Cuts in funding, teaching hours and student cohort size increasing and very little time allocated for professional development mean that the type of collaboration and development needed may be extremely difficult to implement, despite all the rhetoric. Perhaps the quality control idea in 2 (above) is a little utopian....

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