Students and OERs: Exploring the possibilities

I’m currently at the OER13 conference where yesterday Toni Pearce, NUS Vice President (Further Education) presented an genuinely insightful and thought provoking keynote based on the results of a wide ranging survey of student attitudes and online behaviour, which will be published later in the year. The keynote was very well received and generated considerable positive discussion at the conference and on the twitter backchannel. This is a brief summary of the points Toni raised.

The NUS is a political organisation interested in the expansion of educational opportunities, social justice and social cohesion. What are the benefits of open education for groups that are excluded from traditional education? Students are not a homogenous group and some are better positioned to gain advantage from open education than others.

Students are conservative in their use of OERs. Many do use OERs but they are more likely to use them if they are used as part of course or recommended by lecturer. “Traditional” students (i.e. young students in full time education) are very frim about the value of face to face learning and will defend lectures to the death. Lecturing is not an out of date mode of teaching, though podcasting and video captures of lectures is becoming increasingly popular.

Students appreciate the convenience of OERs, they are used to access content at home and revise topics. OERs are primarily used as a labour saving device, not to change how students learn. This is not transforming education; it is just making it more convenient. OERs have not unsettled traditional hierarchies of knowledge.

A small number of students use OERs before entering HE to learn about HE institutions and the experience of higher education. More structured support is needed to facilitate this transition.

In determining the value and reliability of any resource, look is important. Students tend to equate look with value. If a resource looks professional, it is regarded as being reliable.

Students struggle to find appropriate OERs, the volume of resources is overwhelming. Some students bemoaned the failure to develop the equivalent of Dewey Decimal classification for online resources (!), though clearly this is not a viable option. Students lack sophisticated search skills, they need support to situate their use of learning resources in the context of developing their knowledge.

Students often share resources on twitter and facebook, which many find easier to use than VLEs. Sharing is a relationship for cyclical advantage, not altruism, and students will keep resources to themselves in order to gain competitive advantage. Few students create their own OERs or adapt existing resources. While they are happy to use OERs created by others they are unlikely to create their own resources due to concerns they would be co-opted by others. It is also concerning that some students believe that people who are not registered to education institutions should not have access to resources.

Current students are not the key audience for OERs. Education has a tendency to leave you with a desire to keep learning forever. OER has the potential to expand access to learning and make education more widely available to those excluded from traditional educational institutions. There is a widespread belief that OERs can bridge the gap between formal and informal learning experiences.

Students place great value on being able to work together with other students. Technology can be isolating despite access to more and more resources and technologies that support collaboration. Students worry about the lack of learning community and value traditional study environments. Communities give us the assurance that others share our experiences. We can accomplish more as a community than alone as individuals. Our identity comes from the communities that we are part of, which is why web 2.0 social applications can be so effective. The biggest opportunity for OERs is to create communities of education for those that do not have them.

Education is about collaboration not passive consumption but students have little interest in structuring their own learning journeys. However we are moving into unpredictable territory and students need to take control of change.

Will institutions be able to continue offering OER for free? Openness sits uneasily beside marketization and competitiveness and increasing fees will only exacerbate this. No one quite knows what to do about MOOCs. Should we try to control the growth of MOOCs or should we let them proliferate? Opinions are becoming very polarised, but maybe it’s all hype like the Internet bubble. However MOOCs are important because they have started a public conversation about educational technology and part of that conversation has to be about whether openness will be swallowed up by privatisation and competition. We need a balanced thoughtful discussion about the future of education.

This blog post was also posted to the OER13 conference blog here:

3 thoughts on “Students and OERs: Exploring the possibilities

  1. I always get a laugh out of these dogmatic pontifications by “student representatives”. Disclaimer: I am a young fulltime “traditional” student. The points presented here in this article are just wrong on so many levels that my response was becoming longer than the article. So, I will limit my response to just two thoughts.

    Students “will defend lectures to the death”. Wrong. I would almost rather face death than sit through more inane lectures that could have been easily presented in an online format except that the teacher was too lazy or too scared about making public just how bad the lecture was.

    If the traditional student population follows the general population distributions, then you can say that a third of those students are decidedly on the introversion side of the scale. These students find that study groups are usually a waste of time that slows their progress. The usually highly productive introvert also likes to avoid loud mouthed extroverts that think they know everything and pretend to represent the interests of their fellow students when they are actually just drumming for dollars from the teacher association reps in their audience.

  2. Hi Allisa, I’m not sure I can address many of the points you’ve raised as I haven’t seen the results of the survey that Toni based her presentation on and I have no involvement with the NUS. I believe the survey results will be published later in the year though.

    One point I can comment on however is the issue of some lecturers’ unwillingness to put their lectures online for reasons that really don’t stand up to scrutiny. Toni made exactly the same point in her keynote and argued strongly that it would be of great benefit to students if more lectures were made available online. I’m afraid this blog post is a very partial summary, based on how fast I could type during the presentation :}

    It’s a long time since I’ve been a student myself and I’m not a teacher so I don’t really understand your comment about “drumming for dollars form the teachers association reps in the audience”. I’m inclined to agree that loud mouthed extroverts are best avoided in most circumstances though!

    Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Pingback: OER13 in the press | OER13: Evidence, Experience, Expectations

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