OER Programme Myths

Most JISC Programmes accrue a fair amount of myth and misunderstanding during their lifetime however the OER Programme seems to me garnering myths faster than most. So we at CETIS bring you this handy OER Programme myth busting service!

The OER Programme will produce lots of free courseware.
The programme call states that projects should release:

“…the equivalent of one complete undergraduate course worth of materials (360 credits)…”

It’s likely that the programme will release some “courseware” i.e. complete online courses. However in reality we expect a disparate range of many types of resources from a wide range of subjects and domains.

Open educational resources are just for distance learning.
Resources produced by this programme may be used for distance learning but it is probable that a large proportion will originally have been designed for blended teaching and learning.

The OER Programme will produce lots of free content for students.
A significant portion of the resources released are likely to be aimed at students but some my also be designed for use by staff.

This is just another programme about reusable learning objects.
Hopefully OER programme resources will be reusable, some of them may even be learning objects (See Courseware myth above) however the OER Programme is also attempting to change

“institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources release an expected part of the educational resources creation cycle.”

It’s TLTP all over again.
Hopefully not!

It’s just about copying the OU and MIT.
Both OU and MIT are pioneers in the field of OER and we can learn a lot from their experiences however they have their own unique business models and workflows that are unlikely to be immediately transferable to other institutions. See also Business Models myth below.

It’s not sustainable.
Allocating this degree of funding to OER on an annual basis is unlikely to be sustainable however projects have been specifically asked to:

“demonstrate a long term commitment to the release of OER resources. Projects will work towards the sustainability of long term open resources release via the adoption of appropriate business models to support this. Supporting actions should include modifications to institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources release an expected part of the educational resources creation cycle.”

No thought has been given to business models.
See above. The OER Programme call specifically states:

“Bidders should outline their proposed business model for the sustained release of learning resources from the institution, individual or consortium. This call does not mandate a specific business model, but suggests that bidders refer to a report commissioned by JISC from Intrallect, entitled ‘Good Intentions’ .”

It’s a waste of money.
This is a pilot programme. Whether the OER Programme is successful or not in achieving its primary aims and objectives this should be a learning experience for JISC, HEFCE and the Academy. As long as the OER Programme is appropriately evaluated and lessons are learned that inform future decisions the OER Progamme will not be a waste of money.

The OER Programme will transform HE beyond recognition.
Erm ….probably not in the short term. However we hope that the programme will act as a catalyst for institutional and sectoral change in the longer term (see Reusable Learning Objects myth above)

Anyone, anywhere in the world, will be able to freely use and re-purpose the OER Programme resources.
Sounds incredible but yes, this one is actually true!

Real live learning material repository managers spotted at JISC conference!

During last weeks JISC Repositories & Preservation Programme meeting I sat in on a discussion forum on repositories for learning materials that was as interesting as it was short. I didn’t count the number of people who participated, (30 perhaps?), but it was notable that real live honest-to-goodness learning object repository managers outnumbered dubious “experts” (like me). That has to be progress! This informal session was facilitated by JISC’s Amber Thomas and liveblogged by R. John Robertson (#rpmeetb).

Given that most of the participants were speaking from experience I think it’s important to acknowledge the issues they raised….

Quality Assurance

QA is still a big issue. One participant noted that staff at their institution don’t want “three crummy powerpoints” in the same repository as their open access research papers as this will reflect badly on the quality of their scholarly works. A few thought that all teaching and learning materials should be QA’d as this would make them more attractive for reuse. Others, rightly in my opinion, pointed out that context is critical for teaching and learning materials and it makes no sense to QA resources out of context. A straw pole of participants showed that the majority of repository managers present have chosen not to QA teaching and learning materials.

Reuse or Management

There is still some ambiguity regarding the primary role of learning resource repositories. Are they there to facilitate the asset management of resources within the institution or to facilitate the reuse of resources by staff, and indeed students, outwith the institution? It appeared to me that the focus is still very much on using repositories to facilitate reuse but that it is not at all clear who the primary stakeholders are who might reuse these resources.

One Box or Many

Several of the repository managers present reported that they faced a dilemma regarding whether to accommodate the full range of institutional resources (scholarly works, teaching and learning materials, etheses, etc) in a single institutional repository or in multiple resource specific repositories. This was summarised as “one box or many”. One participant noted that senior management would not support multiple institutional repositories, their line of reasoning being “there’s only one institutional library, why should there be more than one repository?” Clearly there are technical solutions to this particular problem, however at root this is an institutional policy issue.

The VLE as Repository

Worryingly more than a few participants reported that it was still common practice for staff to use the institutional VLE to store teaching and learning materials used on a daily basis. This despite the fact that it’s widely known that “you can’t get anything out again”. It’s not clear whether these resources were deemed “not good enough” to be uploaded to a repository or whether it is simply easier to store them in a VLE. It appears that academics draw a distinction between teaching resources created for their own use and “learning objects” created for reuse.

The Myth of Reuse

Tom Franklin pointed out, as he has done many times before, that in his experience no lecturers reuse teaching materials that are more than ten years old so is there really any point in promoting the reuse of teaching and learning materials? This is a valid point. However I would argue that there are many lecturers that would probably like to reuse resources they created themselves a couple of years ago if only they could find them! To my mind the real value of repositories is that they can help teaching practitioners, and the institution more generally, manage their resources over the short to medium term.

So, is there any underlying commonality between teaching and learning materials and scholarly works? Unlike scholarly works, there is no clearly defined workflow for the production, use, management and distribution of teaching and learning materials. As a result it is difficult to articulate the role that repositories can play. In addition teaching and learning materials and their intended use differ vastly across subject domains. Several participants suggested that disciplinary based approaches to resource management may be more productive than the institutional approach. As John reported in his twitter feed

Conceptually Learning Material and Research repositories are very different services with fundamentally different goals, not just different metadata and workflows. Learning Material repositories are much more about asset management and possibly have closer parallel with research data than scholarly works, although not in terms of preservation.

So no stunning conclusions but a lot of food for though raised in just 30 minutes. It was genuinely enlightening to hear the experiences of so many colleagues who are actually managing learning material repositories. Kudos to the JISC Repositories and Preservation Programme.

Meet della

Several people have already picked up on this on twitter. Meet della from Dell for all you girlies needing to “simplify your life with technology”.


“Tech tips” include:

Get healthier: Use your mini to track calories, carbs and protein with ease, watch online fitness videos, map your running routes and more.

Eat better: Find recipes online, store and organize them, and watch cooking videos.

Chill out: Stressed? Your mini can be your meditation buddy as you take mini-breaks throughout your day (schedule them, with reminders, on your calendar). You can find free guided meditations, download meditation podcasts, watch yoga videos, create soothing slideshows of images and music and even bliss out to Visible Earth images courtesy of NASA.

Travel smarter: …. entertain you in airports, trains and buses.

All is not in vain though, here’s the science:

Stay in the clouds: “Cloud computing” is a buzzword for what your mini does best: save money and time by using free online apps for everything you need-meaning you don’t need to buy, install or update a bunch of space- and memory-hogging applications on your computer itself. No matter what operating system you have, it’s easy to find free and low-cost streaming media and online apps. Any time you need to transfer data to or from your mini, you can stream it, port it via removable SD cards or USB flash drives or plug in an external drive.

Words fail me. Ada Lovelace must be spinning in her grave.