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
To conclude our posts for open education week, I’ve been asked to introduce our new briefing paper on open educational practices.
I think we’ve been talking about open practices since the pilot phase of UK OER – you can find it in some of our recommendations. When we set out, I for one had the idea of a perfectly formed OER as openly licensed, self-contained, professionally tagged with educational metadata, and probably hosted in an open repository. Very quickly it was clear that open release would be messier and more interesting than that. OERs were caught up in a host of other emerging practices, such as guiding students to freely available content (with open licensing being only one way of judging value), or using third party services to support students outside of institutional learning environments. The people who were interested in making open content had other open agendas too, some of them very radical.
One problem with tracing the links between open practices is that they tend to be ‘owned’ by different agencies. Even within JISC there are fascinating developments in open education at large, in open access publishing, and in open research data management, that I am only just finding out about. Can we build better connections? The Curriculum Delivery programme has reported on new pedagogical models in which open content makes good sense, while the Curriculum Design programme aims to make design teams more effective and collaborative – couldn’t high quality OERs be of some help here??
Finally, I’m interested in how ‘open’ embodies a different set of values for different people. Other members of the team have pointed out to me that open learning is not the same beast as open education. And our work with earlier phases of the programme confirmed that different stakeholders have very different perceptions of benefit and risk. It’s important to acknowledge the complexity of the open landscape and I hope our new briefing sheds a little light. Do also head over to where Amber Thomas has collated some visualisations of the wider open education landscape. And please comment!
On 2st February 2012 isobel Falconer and I led a webinar for the TEPL-SIG (Technology Enhanced Professional Learning – Special Interest Group) on Open Practices which aimed to encourage participants to consider their own practices. We considered open educational practice (OEP) but also touched on issues around wider open practices with a focus on how this might differ for people in different stakeholder roles (learner, teacher, employer -or even a mix of these). We were keen to take a broad view to emphasise that open practice in one aspect of your life can lead to or influence openness in other areas. The level of participation was excellent and I left hoping for an opportunity to take this further as we only had time to touch on a few issues.
The group included people from around the world with several different roles and levels of experience with OER or OEP. It was nice to have some of the UKOER project team members there as we were drawing on their work and the work of the UKOER programme to illustrate our discussions. We made a wiki page for participants to refer to prior to the session with specific reference to the new briefing paper on open practice across sectors. below are the slides that we used for the session.
Before talking about UKOER and findings we asked particpants a series of questions which really got the discussion flowing (see slides 2 and 3). We were basically asking if open practice is a new concept or if our existing practices are just changing – not rocket science to be sure but a useful way to get participants to reflect on their own practices and how these are impacted by organisational cultures. As expected we did have attendees from professional contexts where some organisational knowledge was seen as a commodity that shouldn’t be shared. We discussed issues around degrees of openness where, in some contexts, there were valid reasons for maintaining some restricted access – a good example of this being around patient data in the NHS.
Isobel offered some insights from the UKOER programme which led to discussion around the motivations for open sharing and the benefits in different contexts. We finished with by considering the challenges and barriers for different sectors.
What is always frustrating at events like this where you have a very fast moving text chat is that people say something really interesting and then chat moves on and you don’t have time to really delve into a particular aspect. The conversation touched on areas such as:
- inequalities and whether OER adds to the rich/poor divide or actually helps to challenge it
- issues around use – the differences between learner/teacher use and how the means of production impacts on quality and size of OER/OCW
- organisational showcasing
- notion of institutions paying ‘lip service’ to the principle of being ‘open’ online but not necessarily considering the value of this in a local community context
- sustainability and embedding of tools to support open processes (and challenge of integrating these into existing practice)
- issues around confidence of individual teachers
- fears of litigation
- questions about why we are even talking about this – are some initiatives already making our discussions obsolete (Coursera, Udactity, MITx)
- how current initiativess around assessment and accreditation are going to impact on things
One of the people attending suggested that we hold the webinar again during open education week which has not been possible – but we hope publishing this post will at least provide some useful information to support the activities during the week and you can watch the recording of the session too. we would be delighted if you would like to continue the conversations we started here in the comments section too.
The HE Academy/JISC UKOER Programme has encouraged cross-sector approaches to OER development, and is increasingly focussing on broader issues around open educational practices (OEP). Synthesis activities for the first two phases of activity have included cultural and institutional issues across a number of sectors. Activities to date include a UKOER phase 2 programme webinar on OERs across sectors , a presentation at the JISC Innovating eLearning Online Conference in November 2011 – Open practice across sectors and a recent TELP-SIG webinar on open practices. It is anticipated that phase three activities will continue to address cross-sector issues and identify good practice for the wider community. It has become clear that a significant benefit of engaging with the concepts and challenges of OEP and OER is in the way it encourages cross sector understanding, collaboration and outcomes.
The UKOER Phase 2 Synthesis report considered practice change in detail:
“Collaborative practice has emerged as important during this funding phase. Cross disciplinary approaches are beginning to have an impact at an institutional level and reveal a new benefit of open content – that it is easily shared and co-constructed across existing boundaries. Engaging with partners outside the academic sector has been challenging but has encouraged new partnerships, trust and levels of understanding. Several projects comment that working across boundaries to develop project outcomes (business/community/academy, staff/consultants, students/teachers) has been one of the most radical aspect of their experience and has the potential to change practice more widely.”
We invite you to read one of our new briefing papers which looks at the various motivations for different stakeholders across sectors in engaging with OEP and OER and it also identifies some synergies and differences between HE and HE in FE, NHS and employers.
One of the core questions around open educational practices seems to be around the terminology:
Recognising new or changing practice as ‘open’ or OEP has added to the complexity in the field as it needs defining and explaining – is existing practice becoming more open or does it require people to change their practice? During the JISC online conference discussions many people argued that some people have been engaged in open practice (and even producing OERs) for many years but do not use this terminology to describe it. Whilst some may prefer not to use new terminology, it can be useful to engage people with the concepts and generate institutional-wide understanding that can be fed into strategy, policy and practice. It can also be valuable to situate open practices as an extension of existing practices, which may generate less anxiety or resistence and establishing OEP as a credible and valid form of scholarship has been identified by projects as one way of normalising these practices.
What are your views on this? Are you already an open practioner?
During Open Education Week, the JISC UKOER evaluation and synthesis team, Lou McGill, Isobel Falconer, Helen Beetham and I, are collecting together ideas for a Grand Challenge in the areas of Open Education or Open Learning. This is following on from my work with the EU-funded STELLAR Network for Excellence in TEL in developing ‘Grand Challenges’.
A Grand Challenge is about taking the areas of Open Education and/or Open Learning to a new level. It’s about focusing global attention on a specific problem – a problem that is important but has not been solved. Through a Grand Challenge, we identify a problem, link people and disciplines to build new concepts and innovative solutions. Each Grand Challenge should be defined by a problem statement, rather than a solution, which is stated simply, measurable and time bound.
Identifying how realistic and desirable a Grand Challenges might be is complex. Every Grand Challenge brings together ideas and concepts from different disciplines to help solve some of the biggest problems associated with Open Education and Open Learning. The likely impact of each on human learning is governed by a complex interplay of factors including:
Contextualisation – Groups of people directly involved with each Grand Challenge will bring to the project their practices, cultures and values, grounding emerging ideas and solutions in known ways of learning and working. A high degree of contextualization embeds the research and outputs within specific settings, reducing the risk of solutions not being taken up. Conversely, a high degree of contexualisation makes the abstraction and diffusion of concepts to other settings more complex.
Interdiciplinarity – Inclusion of a wide range of disciplinary groups within a Grand Challenge enriches the outputs and solutions generated through the project. At the same time, the knowledge generated through the project is likely to be more abstract and less easy to apply directly to solutions across a range of different contexts. Consequently, projects with a greater the number of disciplines tend to be more complex and incur a higher the risk that the outputs will not be adopted widely.
Timescale – The timeframe for the impact of concepts and solution on human learning is proportional to the complexity of the Grand Challenge. Complex, interdisciplinary projects will require a longer timeframe for the adoption of solutions, as knowledge is diffused across and interpreted by different stakeholder groups.
Let me know your ideas for a Grand Challenge in Open Education or Open Learning by writing a short problem statement. Outline the context, disciplines required to seek solutions, timescale and measures (ie how we will know the Grand Challenges has been completed).
By 2022 learners will be able to use and contribute to all knowledge from publicly funded projects. The project will include researchers from information, organisational, social and learning sciences, computer and material scientists as well as research funding bosdies, schools, colleges, universities, health services, museums, NGOs, legal entities and government agencies. By 2012 all public projects will be asked to identify how learners can have access to and can contribute to the project knowledge prior as a condition of a funding agreement.