Supporting OER Policy in Scotland

Last week I attended an interesting ALT Scotland meeting, hosted by the Centre for Learning Enhancement and Academic Development at Glasgow Caledonian University which, among other things, focused on the potential role of ALT in shaping OER policy in Scotland.

The discussion was led by Joe Wilson, SQA’s Head of New Ventures, in response to UNESCO’s OER draft declaration consultation. This consultation had previously been the focus of Sir John Daniel’s keynote “Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally” at the OER12 / OCWC Conference in Cambridge earlier this year. At the time the UK government had not responded to the UNESCO consultation, which appears to have been sent only to Westminster*. This prompted Joe to suggest that it might be useful to seek a response from the Scottish Government, with ALT potentially being an appropriate body to support this cause and to assemble Scotland wide responses on international initiatives in the area.

There certainly seemed to be considerable appetite among those present at last week’s well attended meeting to help articulate Scottish policy in the area of openness in general and open educational resources in particular.

Several participants noted that as a relatively small community, there is already a strong ethos and culture of sharing across the Scottish educational sectors, which could be harnessed for the greater good. However, although there may be enthusiasm at the grass roots level, there was also agreement that there is little awareness of the open agenda at the institutional level.

Furthermore, in terms of policy, it was suggested that there is some disparity between the UK and Scottish governments in terms of commitment to open strategy, open education and open educational resources.

David Beards of the Scottish Funding Council pointed out that the Scottish Government are already committed to promoting openness through the 2004 Scottish Declaration on Open Access which states:

“We believe that the interests of Scotland will be best served by the rapid adoption of open access to scientific and research literature.”

While this is unquestionably an admirable goal, the declaration does focus squarely on open access to scholarly research outputs. There is no mention of opening access to educational resources, or indeed to research and other data, and I can not help but be reminded of the late Rachel Heery’s astute observation to the final meeting of JISC Repositories and Preservation Advisory Group that teaching and learning resources have not been served well by scholarly works Open Access agenda as their workflows are very different.

In order to raise awareness of the open agenda at the policy level it was suggested that ALT Scotland should take positive steps to bring together institutions and non departmental public bodies to work together to ensure that open educational resources feature in Scotland’s national ICT strategy. As a first step towards this goal, the group agreed to formally establish ALT Scotland as an ALT Special Interest Group. If you’re interested in participating in these developments, or just keeping up to date, you can joint the ALT Scotland mailing list here

One last thing, in an admirable example of practising what they preach, ALT have opened access to their journal Research in Learning Technology. The journal aims to:

Raise the profile of research in learning technology, encouraging research that informs good practice and contributes to the development of policy.

All journal content is freely available here:

* David Kernohan of JISC has helpfully pointed out that the UK government has now formally responded to the UNESCO consultation. Thanks David!

Open Education in Europe – SURF’s “diner pensant”

While we were at the recent OER 12 Conference in Cambridge, David Kernohan (JISC), Maggie Stephens (JISC), Martin Hawksey (CETIS) and I were invited by SURF to join a diner pensant with ‘food for thought’. The event took the form of a dinner with three presentations around the theme of “Open Education in Europe: what are the opportunities?” The guests represented a wide range of global initiatives and institutions with a commitment to open education and oer including Creative Commons, the Commonwealth of Learning, UNESCO, JISC, SURF, MIT, along with the universities of Amsterdam, Athabasca, Barcelona, Delft and Leuven. A full list of participants is available here and the programme can be found here.

It was a genuinely thought provoking event and I was lucky enough to share a table and some enlightened discussion with Fred Mulder, holder of the UNESCO Chair in OER at the Open Universiteit, Stephen Carson, Director of External Affairs for MIT OpenCourseWare, Ignasi Labastida i Juan, Universitat de Barcelona and Creative Commons Spain and Catalonia and Willem van Valkenburg, Delft University of Technology. I confess I was too engrossed in the conversation to take notes on the presentation and discussions, however SURF’s Hester Jelgerhuis, project manager Open Educational Resources SURF and organiser of the event, has blogged a report here: Cambridge 2012 Congres over OEr: diner pensent.

To summarise Hester’s post, Fred Mulder opened the event with a presentation called “Fascinated by digital openness in education”. In addition to outlining his own fascination with all aspects of openness, he characterised Open Education as consisting of three elements; open educational resources, open learning services and open teaching efforts. Fred argued that the EU should concentrate its efforts on mainstreaming open educational resources rather than open education which he suggested was unlikely to be widely adopted by higher education institutions due to its diversity. This perspective caused considerable discussion at our table with several guests suggesting that while open education may not sweep away the institution of higher education that we are familiar with today, open education in all its forms will have an increasingly important role to play in meeting the educational demands of a growing global population. It’s interesting to reflect on this discussion in light of yesterday’s press release by Harvard and MITx announcing the launch of edX “a new nonprofit partnership, to offer free online courses from both universities.”

This theme was picked up by Anka Mulder, president of the OCW Consortium, who presented evidence from Tony Bates and Sir John Daniel suggesting that we need to look for new approaches and methodologies to meet the growing demand for higher education. Anka also noted that innovation in the field of open education tended to come from the US, Australia and the UK and she particularly mentioned the innovative impact of the JISC / HEA Open Educational Resources programmes. By contrast, open education adoption and production is more prevalent in Asia, particularly Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, India and Japan. Anka went on to suggest that EU governments and institutions needed to do much more to influence and embed open education by funding projects and policy developments, adopting legislation to ensure openness by default and including openness as a higher education performance indicator. She also suggested we should all take steps to set up an EU Open Course Ware Consortium.

The final presentation was by JISC’s David Kernohan who presented a brief summary of the aims and impact of three years of OER funding in the UK. David’s presentation was particularly thought provoking and sobering as he reflected on the impact on UK higher education funding cuts on the reality of academic practice. With many of the teachers and academics driving open education in the UK employed on part time and temporary contracts David reflected on whether there was any way to sustain open education adoption and innovation without exploiting the academic staff that make these new and open approaches to education possible.

The diner pensant certainly achieved it’s aim of providing “food for though”. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank SURF for organising this interesting and thought provoking event and for inviting JISC and CETIS to participate.