Open Educational Practice: are communities helpful environments for changing professional practice?
Allison Littlejohn, Lou McGill, Isobel Falconer, Helen Beetham
For Open Education week at 11am (GMT) on Thursday at Lou McGill, David Kernohan and Allison Littlejohn will present some of the key findings from the UKOER programme ‘What you can learn from the UKOER experience‘. The programme anticipated that widespread involvement of faculty and support staff would bring about a sustainable change in culture from focusing on content ownership, to focusing on open sharing; and that building a critical mass of OER would bring about sustainable change in practices of reuse and re-purposing. The lessons learned from evaluation and synthesis of the programme are available from http://bit.ly/oerevalsynth
One set of key findings was around the role of communities in the release of Open Educational Resources (OER). How professional practice is transformed to support activities underpinning the release of OER, sometimes called open educational practice (OEP), is not well understood. Communities of practice provide a positive environment for changing professional practice. Examples of communities are subject discipline communities or communities within an institution. Each community will have members with different roles (for example academics, support staff, learners), regulated by specific rules. These sorts of communities are important if the benefits of a culture of open resources, open knowledge, free sharing and peer collaboration in education are to be realised. The UKOER programme provided a context to explore these tensions and highlight the benefits and limitations of communities in transforming professional practice.
The UKOER Evaluation and Synthesis team, Allison Littlejohn, Isobel Falconer, Lou McGill and Helen Beetham, analysed the contradictions evident in OER release by UKOER project teams. We drew data from our programme-wide synthesis and evaluation (McGill et al, 2010), using project reports and focus group discussions to surface, 1) common issues, key barriers and enablers around OER release,and 2) cultural differences across the sector, detailing evidence of norms, roles, rules and reward structures that foster effective professional practice. Analysis was through mapping the actions of project team members against an activity framework (see figure 1). In our study, the activity systems were UKOER projects where project team members (subjects) work on OER (object), transforming it into an outcome using technological and conceptual tools (Engeström, 1987 & 2005). The tool-mediated action of the project teams was mediated by rules and the broader social context of the community within which the activity takes place. Labour was divided among the community members (roles). This framework provided an analytic socio-cultural lens for understanding complex relationships across different groups.
Figure 1: activity framework for a UKOER project
This analysis provided evidence that OER projects made best progress where project team were within existing communities. Examples included subject communities, where people already sharing teaching materials. However we also found that in projects where people did not have existing, working relationships, new collaborations were difficult to initiate. For example, project teams found it difficult to convince university support staff to allow collaborators from outside their community access to institutional repositories.
A key factor within communities that helped change professional practice was trust. In many cases, when trust was not apparent, peoples’ willingness to open access to resources was reduced (for a more detailed description Falconer et al, 2013). Faculty wanted to retain control over which communities or sub-communities they opened up their resources to, preferring to release content within a closed community. Yet controlled release of resources within closed communities is antithetical to the philosophy of open access, mitigating against the successful release of OER.
In summary, while communities may encourage first steps into open practices, they sometimes seem antithetical to the basic philosophy of open release of resources. We found a contradiction between the aim of the UKOER programme to openly release OER and limited practices within some communities, resulting in release of OER within bounded communities. These contradictions present major barriers to successful OER release.
Beetham, H. (2011) Reflections, blog post, http://oersynthesis.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2011/01/25/reflections/ [accessed 23/12/11]
Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by expanding, Helsinki: Orienta-konsultit. Available from http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/toc.htm [accessed 23/12/11]
Engeström, Y. (2005).’ Knotworking to create collaborative intentionality capital in fluid organizational fields.’ In M. M. Beyerlein, S. T. Beyerlein, & F. A. Kennedy (Eds.), Collaborative capital: Creating intangible value (pp. 307–336). Amsterdam: Elsevier
Falconer, I, Littlejohn, A., McGill, L., and Beetham, H. (2013) ‘Motives and tensions in the release of Open Educational Resources: the JISC UKOER programme’ Draft available from https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/63710786/Motives%20and%20tensions%20in%20the%20release%20of%20Open%20Educational%20Resources
JISC (2009) HEFCE/Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme: Call for Projects http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/funding/2008/12/oercall.doc [accessed 18/10/2010]
McGill, L., Beetham, H., Falconer, I., and Littlejohn., A. (2010) JISC/HE Academy OER Programme: Pilot Phase Synthesis and Evaluation Report. Available from https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/29688444/Pilot%20Phase%20Synthesis%20and%20Evaluation%20Report
Please fill in our survey
If you have been involved in HEFCE funded UKOER and SCORE initiatives we would like your help.
We plan to revisit some of the key lessons learnt across all strands of work, and gather input from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible. We are interested in reaching partners from all sectors, service support teams, key project personal, institutional and organisational stakeholders (whatever level of involvement you have had). We are also interested to hear from recipients of the outputs, outcomes or activities so please circulate the survey as widely as you can. We hope to draw together some interesting themes from across three years of diverse and interesting activities. Alongside the survey we will also be carrying out some telephone or skype interviews to ask some more in depth questions of people who have been involved in the initiatives.
This is your opportunity to feed into the review and also an opportunity to tell us which aspects of open educational practice would benefit from any future funding or research activity.
The survey will be open until July 19th
HEFCE OER review
This survey comprises a part of a review into HEFCE funded OER activities which aims to provide a cumulative evaluation and synthesis of all phases of UKOER and the Open University SCORE activities. We will be revisiting the findings from the pilot phase and phase 2 of UKOER and synthesising these with findings from phase three which is currently in progress. We will also be producing a synthesis of OU SCORE activities.
More information is available from our Synthesis and Evaluation wiki
One of the approaches that we have adopted to support projects with their evaluation activities is to establish pair/teams of evaluation buddies.
An evaluation buddy is basically another project who can:
- check that evaluation plans are sensible, credible, valid, do-able, relevant to programme aims
- provide peer review of content, interfaces, and other practical outputs from the projects
- sharing ideas, experiences and interim outcomes of evaluation
- swaping time and expertise, e.g. analyse data for one another (extra objectivity
- sharing resources e.g. external consultants buddy up for e.g. workshops, critical moments (writing up etc)
- act as a sounding board and be a neutral ear to articulate findings, thougts and any concerns about evaluation outcomes.
It is a support mechanism that can develop into long term relationships for future OER work. Of course it does not preclude the development of other useful relationships across projects. We describe a bit more about this approach in the toolkit.
We held the first of a series of meetings with these pairs/groups this week. This meeting included three projects REACTOR, Opening up a Future for Business and CORE-SET. These projects have several areas of commonality which we explored in the meeting.
Each project gave a brief overview of their project and the evaluation questions/issues that thay were looking at.
Led by University of Liverpool, this project builds on the Pilot Phase project CORE-Materials and expands the remit to various stakeholders outside HE (including private companies and 3rd sector agencies). They see the value of adopting a baselining approach which offers a more systematic approach to evidence gathering. They have developed an instrument to gather current understanding and practice of their stakeholders and will apply that at various stages throughout the project to evidence change. This is likely to reveal some interesting information about readiness of other sectors to engage with OER and highlight perceived barriers and enablers.
Led by Doncaster College this project builds on the UKOER phase 2 project SPACE and aims to develop 3D interactive resources for environmental technology which will be made available on web from project website, but also to be downloadable onto mobile devices. Also focussing on a range of sectors outside HE this project has also invested significant energy into engaging very different groups of stakeholders (including sector skills councils, private companies, public sector, as well as HE in FE) Early research to identify what teachers and students within these curriculum areas want or need has been supported by the wider networks of these agencies. They also bring different resources to input to the OERs and offer opportunities to make sure they reflect the curriculum needs of many stakeholders.
Opening up a Future for Business
Led by Southampton Solent University this project has an FE & 6th form college audience as it aims to collate and produce an OER to enable 16-19 year olds, thinking about their future, to move forward with confidence in to studying Business and Management topics in Higher Education. The project emphasised the need to reconceptualise their approach as the project has progressed. By examining how FE teachers already use OERs they discovered several institutional barriers such as blocking of some sites, to very protective and risk averse management of access to services on the web. Copyright restrictions on materials produced by other educational institutions have affected what teachers use and what can be adapted as OErs. The project is looking at how openness spreads within institutions. All of these issues are impacting on platform choice for their disaggregable book – with Moodle emerging as a strong choice as many of their stakeholder institutions use this VLE.
Common themes and strands
The following areas/linkages were noted as significant for this group of projects and we anticipate interesting lessons emerging around these:
- Linking with students as important stakeholder group
- Students for evaluating and testing
- Students as project employees
- Student-generated content
- Subject area linkages- engineering, environmental technologies, business
- Linking with a wide range on non HE stakeholders – not just educators and students in these organisations (lessons around stakeholder engagement, practice change, challenges/enablers)
- Choice of Platforms (links to different stakeholder requirements, constraints and influence)
Isobel and I found this meeting really valuable and the projects also highlighted the usefulness of this approach to enable sharing of similar evaluation instruments, sharing processes (not just evaluation related), talking through issues and reflecting on emerging lessons at regular intervals, and in the longer term possibly in presenting evaluation outcomes to a wider audience. We also discussed the evaluation toolkit and how this can help with reflection on lessons learned and preparing for reporting.
This buddy team did note the value of meeting as they prepare their Interim reports and are planning another meeting in June. We will meet again as projects prepare for their final reports too.
We are delighted to launch our new Evaluation Tookit which aims to benefit UKOER projects by providing a structured way to collate their findings and observations and can also be used in the reporting process. It also provided lots of information, advice, examples and videos, on evaluation, sources of evidence, and buddying. To help projects get the most out of the toolkit, we have produced a guide.
- UKOER Evaluation toolkit on the wiki
The interactive element of the toolkit provides two alternative routes into the structure – through the programme themes, or through key evaluation focus areas. Both routes utilise the same underlying mechanism to record findings, observations and evidence – a series of google forms and spreadsheets – but the higher level user interface is very different.
- The key focus area route, via links on dedicated wiki pages, is useful for those familiar with our evaluation framework. Each focus area has an individual wiki page which provides a description of that area and some specific issues and aspects that the programme is investigating.
- The programme themes route offers a more visual approach via an interactive mind map (using spicynodes) where you can explore the themes of the UKOER3 programme and drill down to find the specific issues and aspects that relate to the themes you are investigating. We have produced a quide to using the spicynodes maps.
Whichever route projects choose, they can opt to receive an email record of their entries for future reference and report writing.
As projects approach writing their interim reports, we hope this provides an opportunity to reflect on, and perhaps reframe, the evaluation questions they started with, in the light of experiences to date, as it becomes clearer where their valuable contributions lie.
We welcome feedback on the toolkit, and expect to revise and improve it in the light of comments.
We use the framework as an iterative tool to support both evaluation activities of projects and synthesis activities of our team. It highlights core areas of inquiry and identifies evaluation questions that projects intend to address. We started with a working pilot phase framework in 2009 which has since been through several iterations. The latest version of the framework was created at the end of phase 2 in November 2011 and links to evidence from projects. We are currently revising this framework to reflect phase 3 activities and questions (coming soon!).
We have listed phase 3 projects and their evaluation questions and themes/areas on a new wiki page and the wordle is made from the terms in the third column of this page – themes/links. UKOER projects may find this wiki page useful to identify other projects to make links with. The funding call for the THEMES projects did identify 4 themes which has obviously shaped some of the focii.
A: Extend OER through collaborations beyond HE
B: Explore OER publishing models
C: Addressing sector challenges
D: Enhancing the student experience
It’s early days for phase 3 but what strikes me so far is that the issue of student created OERs has emerged as a more prominent focus this year. Identified by a few projects in the pilot phase as an area of interest, raising issues around ownership, digital litercaies, and licencing, it failed to attract alot of interest during phase 2 with only a few projects including student content as part of their OERs. I am pleased to see this re-emerge (under the banner of Enhancing the student experience) because I think this area needs investigating more.
Cross -sector partnerships continue to be a major theme and this phase will see several projects taking up the challenge of working with publishers – indeed new OER publishing models are being considered and hopefully developed during this phase. 3rd sector agencies as partners have also emerged with several projects working with charities and the voluntary sector – another area to watch with interest. Some projects plan to work with industry, NHS, skills councils and SMEs, continuing some interesting work that was carried out during phase two with these groups. Projects will continue to work across educational sectors and schools also feature as partners in some projects. We have been working on a briefing paper which highlights issues emerging during phase 2 around open practice across sectors. We expect this phase of activities to inform and expand on this work.
Digital literacies featured strongly during phase 2 and continues to be a focus area for many projects, as do research skills and academic practice, with the OMAC strand particularly focussing on this area. The OMAC (open materials for accredited courses) strand aims to build on the outcomes of phase 2 and focuses on the release of materials linked to the new UK Professional Standards Framework (UK PSF) for staff who teach in higher education.
A key focus of phase 2 was changing teaching practice and we noted a move of emphasis from OERs to open edcuational practices. This is a continued area of focus for projects this year and is likely to raise some interesting debate and discussion.We are currently preparing a briefing paper on open educational practice – so watch this space…
One of the challenges for UKOER project timescales is that they often underestimate the time taken to release the OERs and have little time to find out how they are used by different stakeholders. We may find that projects are able to report more about this (particularly academic use of OER) as some projects are intending to re-use existing OERs. Several projects have included a remit to investigate student use of OERs – another area which should be of significant interest to the community.
So, in summary, I think we are in for a really interesting time during phase three and I’m looking forward to working with the projects as they attempt to answer their evaluation questions. Not least I always look forward to those unanticipated findings that come from taking a few risks and being experimental…
If you have not had the chance to read the findings from phase 2 (we have been a bit tardy in reporting this here – but hope to do a series of blogs focussing on different aspects of this soon) then do check out our Phase 2 Synthesis report. It’s a meaty read but you can dip in and out of the different sections…
Helen Beetham attended the HE Academy/JISC Phase 2 Programme interim meeting on 19th Jan 2011 and led some sessions on evaluation with the projects. Her presentation is available here.
Please let us know if you are a project and have any questions emerging as a result of the activities and discussions.
Reflections from the HE Academy/JISC OER Phase 2 programme interim meeting held on Wednesday19th Jan 2011. Quite long but we would appreciate your thoughts too, whether you were at the meeting or not.
Financial constraints mean institutions are less willing to invest in learning and teaching innovation. However, once the political paroxysms are over, the new funding regime might mean that learning and teaching agendas such as OER will have a new relevance. In non-elite institutions it will be necessary to demonstrate that the university experience is worth the money., and that it is distinctively different from the experience at comparable universities. What benefit models might be convincing in this climate, especially in terms of differentiation around the student experience?
In the short term, with threatened mergers etc, visibility and reputation enhancement may become the key drivers of OER release. OERs project the institution’s values to the world, and iTuneU in particular is an important marketing tool. However, there are a lot of institutions where the only OERs that are visible to the outside world are informational or marketing in focus. Is this sustainable in learning and teaching terms? Focus on learning and teaching production is very different from focus on institutional reputation and there may be polarisation of these two agendas in the coming months and years.
Course marketisation may be a link between the two. If every course has an OER profile in order to give students positive choices about their learning, then both strategies come into play. At present none of the institutions represented in the strand have a policy of tasters/trailers for all courses, but there is a move towards this view. They give potential students a view of the kind of experience they can expect, they raise the profile of the module, and they can be particularly powerful if they showcase work by students themselves.
Reward and recognition for teaching and learning are key. So is it about embedding OER into formal processes e.g. quality, course approval, or raising the visibility and status of individuals involved in OER, or embedding into high level policies (teaching and learning, marketing, content management, to name just a few)… or all of these? What works best?
How students are engaging with OERs may be a different issue from how staff are: embedding into the student experience of learning is not the same set of strategies to embedding into the curriculum. So while staff recognition and reward is probably key, student motivation is much more about quality and relevance of the resources.
It is possible that more insecurity in academic employment might actually make OER release more attractive as a way of enhancing personal reputation and profile. Weaker affiliation with an institution → ‘public’ scholarship as a career path. Academic blogs, rich media papers, open research data, pre-publication versions, and personal content legacies are all becoming part of the apparatus of scholarship and professionalism in academia. OERs are part of the picture of borderless institutions on the one hand, and public scholars on the other.
We can expect more conflicts between academic ways of managing knowledge and the opportunities presented by world-wide web – OERs, iTunesU and marketing depts are places where some of these conflicts are being played out. The ‘borderless university‘ is another way of expressing these tensions.
Defining ‘open‘. For JISC open = openly licensed to support repurposing and reuse. But some other aspects of openness are at odds with one another – there is not a single dimension along which institutions can be measured. For example, open sharing in communities tends to involve some minimal gatekeeping e.g. log-in and personal identifier, to support the virtuous circle of release and re-use, and enrichment of content. Open resources ‘in the wild’ are available without gatekeeping but lack the history and community ownership that allow for sustained reuse. Resources may be made highly accessible to students in all contexts by including pedagogic support, but this makes them less accessible to teachers who want to repurpose them in different pedagogic contexts.
OERs allow universities to position themselves as sites of public knowledge, in an age of near-universal access. But what does that look like in practice? Outcomes of the UK OER programme which would be nice to see:
- ‘Best of’ UK OER resources to showcase quality
- Talking heads: towards open public knowledge (students, potential students teaching staff, professionals, developers, managers talking about their OER experiences)
- Impacts: 2 sides of A4 on institutional and educational benefits and lessons learned
David K raised the issue that there is no funding available for dissemination, so the evaluation and synthesis team needs to think about how outcomes from the projects and from our own work can be designed to meet some of these criteria without ‘extra work’ disseminating them in new forms.
‘OER’ as an issue might become less visible in the coming months, because on the one hand it is just part of the developing digital landscape, and on the other hand it is just a new mode of content sharing, which has always been an aspect of the academic community. OERs can be differentiated from other content (open licence, cost free, accessible design…?) but for most users these are of limited visibility and interest – it’s just content. UK OER is a particular moment in the evolution of both digital content and open practices in education, but the evolution will continue.
We had the first ‘Second Tuesday’ session in Elluminate last week where our team shared with projects the way we would be supporting evaluation activities and mechanisms to synthesise programme outcomes. We had some useful conversations around the questions that projects were hoping to ask and ultimately answer…
Projects were shown where to find outputs from Phase one activities (such as our wiki) or the (OER infokit) and asked to identify something that they thought might be useful. I found the session useful and hope the projects did. Below are the slides I used which may prove helpful to refer back to.
The synthesis and evaluation team developed a wiki to support pilot projects and also used it to collate our synthesis outputs and deliver the lessons learned by the programme. We have recently revised the wiki so pages now have new links. Whilst the old wiki pages are still available these will not be updated.
There are some useful resources available through the wiki so go and have a look around. Below are links to specific sections. We welcome your feedback.
UK OER Pilot Programme Pages
Including some guidance documents on evaluating project activities and evaluating OERs themselves.
Presentations made by the team in their roles as synthesis and evaluation support