Developing a sustainable OER ecosystem in HE

I gave a presentation at the Open Ed conference 2010 in Barcelona last week to share some lessons learned from the UKOER projects for sustainable OER releasing and thoughts on developing sustainable OER ecosystems in Higher Education.

The UKOER programme has provided an opportunity for funding bodies, institutions and academics work together to explore cultural, political and financial as well as technical issues related to OER releasing and reusing. In this presentation, I focused on institutional projects funded by the UKOER programme and discussed how different approaches and models have been adopted to address long term sustainability issues regarding OERs releasing and reusing beyond the funding period. Furthermore, I employed an ecological approach to examine the UKOER programme in order to capture the comprehensive views and interactions between stakeholders around OERs and indicate where change should happen in order to develop sustainable OER ecosystems.

The ecological approach provides a useful framework for analysing and examining the development of sustainable OERs in the UK context. It illustrates how government agencies and funding bodies, institutions, subject centres and individuals should engage in the production and reuse of OERs within the particular educational system and articulate the key interactions, dependencies, and influences in OER ecosystems. In this case, the UK government committed to the establishment of a content infrastructure which is professionally developed and organised to support informal and formal education and catalyse innovations in higher education. The UKOER programme used national funding models both as an incentive and as a steering device to encourage institutions, subject centres and individuals to promote openness and culture of sharing in education and explore issues regarding sustainable OERs releasing and reusing. In order to achieve sustainable OER ecosystems, it is clear that higher education institutions will need to explore new business models and improve efficiencies through OERs, e.g. reduction in cost and improvements in quality. Educators and learners will need to participate in communities of practice where OER development and reuse becomes a normal consequence of educational activities. This meso level (national educational system level) OER ecosystem will rely for success on the sustainability of OER projects at the micro level (institutions, subject centres and individuals) and, if successful, will eventually foster the global sustainable OER ecosystem at macro level. The PowerPoint of the presentation is available at slideshare.

#cetis10: Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions

My colleague Simon, John and I will run two sessions on Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions at JISC CETIS conference next week. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, urged that universities need to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach in “tough times”. The Browne review sets out a great political imperative for institutions to think about new funding streams and innovative approaches to widening participation. There a growing criticism of inefficiencies in Higher Education, including the costs of teaching and of producing learning materials and resources.

So how can we respond to these issues, in the light of political and economic reality, and in terms of the contribution from learning technology? In the first session, we will look at “technology, politics and economics”. Different political and economic assumptions, attitudes or views are likely to give different solutions to our question. In this session, we proposed five models of higher education in order stimulate the debate and discussions.

  • State funded – HE could be a service provided free by governments funded from tax revenue to enable all citizens to develop their talents and interests to a higher level, and to benefit the national economy
  • Free-market – HE could be a business where HEIs charge full economic fees to students in return for giving them knowledge, skills, professional training and qualifications, networks of contacts, and prestige to use later in working life
  • Business-run – Higher-level education and training could be provided by businesses for their employees, as part of a process of managing their talent pool, and as a way to attract and retain the best employees
  • Charity funded – HEIs could be charities dedicated to spreading learning and its benefits to as many people as possible, including the poor and disadvantaged across the world, using volunteer staff where possible
  • DIY U – HE could be a self-organised system through which individuals decide on their higher learning needs and collaborate with other learners to achieve them using freely available resources where possible.

The participants will be asked to form groups around these positions or suggest other positions for group discussion. We expect that a rich picture for the vision from each position will be presented and some bullet points to cover the practical aspects of learning technology developments that could help to get there, and the role of JISC / CETIS.

In the second session, we will focus on “community and learner support” to explore how technology can help in the processes of learner support at different stages, either directly or through facilitating communities which can support the processes. In each case, who would be the members of the relevant community, and how can technology work for them?

Social software and e-portfolio tools are prime candidates to help with community and learner support, but how can this be done effectively? Can other learning technologies help as well, towards the goal of cheaper and more flexible HE provision that is still effective?

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the future of Higher Education to share your ideas and thoughts in those sessions. We would like you to think about how cheaper, flexible, effective institutions could function, in terms of technology, politics and economics, and how low-cost, flexible and effective community and support for learners could be provided, how could we practically get there, and how could JISC and CETIS contribute?

Institutional OERs and sustainability – embedding is the key

How to make sure universities and academics continue producing OERs and sharing teaching materials when the OER projects funding run out? This is one of the major concerns for OER programme funders and funded projects. At the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE) event – Making ‘open’ the easiest option: OER and sustainability at Leeds last week, one of the main themes arising from the presentations and discussion around sustainable OERs during the day was embedding the process and policy into institution strategies and academic practices.

Leeds Metropolitan University’s Unicycle project presented a model for supporting the production and reuse of OERs across multiple faculties and whole institutions beyond the funding period. In their presentation, Simon Thomson talked about how to promote awareness of OERs among academics and on how to develop policies and processes to make OERs become normal activities at the university:

  1. A grounding approach to introduce OERs to staff: engaging with a range of staff, creating a workable model and changing academic working practice and culture. In order to do so, they encourage staff to find useful OERs for their own courses and share teaching materials with others. Their OERs focus on the materials that individual members of staff feel are useful rather than the courseware of a whole course. This approach also concentrates on identifying OER related IPR and copyright issues and promoting awareness through staff development;
  2. Central OER support and distributed content management model: The University has a central OER support unit which involves staff from the repository development team, the copyright clearance office and the TEL/ALT teams. Each faculty/department/subject area has a co-ordinator to oversee the quality and manage resources locally.
  3. Developing policy to promote releasing and reusing OERs and policy on reward and recognition: It is expected that the policy on producing and releasing OERs would require staff to use OERs in their courses and release OERs when developing and delivering new courses. Staff will be encouraged to become a learning designer rather than a content creator. It is also important that OERs work should be integrated as part of the professional reward and recognition scheme at the institution.

Unicycle provides an example of how the development of OERs could be embedded into existing institution policy and academic practice and how to encourage cultural change and resources sharing with institutions. The participants at the event were also invited to contribute to a discussion on OER and sustainability and the ‘Leeds Manifesto’ has been produced based on the experience from the UKOER funded projects which hope to help future funded projects achieve sustainability in OERs.