Managing Quality of Course Resources in Repositories

Quality is the primary concern for most people looking for teaching and learning materials from open educational resources and repositories. Phil in his blog has indicated the difficulties in creating high quality materials for individual lectures, in measuring what we mean by the term ˜good and in communicating the results so people know where to look for the resources they need. In the OER briefing paper, we discussed several approaches that have been used by OER initiatives in dealing with quality management issues, such as MITs and OpenLearns institution-based approach, the peer review approach for Open Source Software projects and Open Access journals and Rice Connexions open users review approach.

Recently, a colleague pointed me to the National High Quality Course Resources Repository in China and told me how these resources had been developed and selected from different institutions throughout China and used by other educators and learners within the country. It seemed to me that this is quite a different approach to quality assessment and enhancement that might be worth looking at for developing large scale OER initiatives and national repositories. I then spent some time to explore relevant websites for the programme and the resources in the repository. Here are some of my findings and thoughts that I would like to share with people who might be interested.

In 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Education launched the œNational Excellent Courses for Higher Education programme, which aimed to encourage institutions in developing and sharing high quality course resources and improving the quality of teaching and learning in HE as a whole. Each year, institutions submit their best courses to the National Centre for Excellent Courses in HE. The centre uploads all the courses on the website and invites the public to vote. The highly rated courses (around 80% of all submitted courses) enter to the next selection process “ expert reviews. Around 20% of courses are recommended as national excellent courses through reviews by expert panels drawn from different subjects and the results are published via various communications channels. Those selected include syllabi, lecture notes, videos and courseware and are mounted into the National Excellent Courses Resources Repository for educators and learners to re-use and re-purpose in their own teaching and learning. The individuals, faculties and institutions who developed the courses receive funding for their work so that they can further invest in the courses or develop other courses. From 2003 to 2007, 1,798 courses were developed and awarded the ˜excellent title and it is expected that another 4,000 courses will be made available from 2008 to 2010.

This centralised selection approach gives us an example of a large scale and long term quality assurance mechanism for OER and repositories at a national level. In particular, this approach might help to address the quality issues for creating, assessing and reusing resources in large repositories and OERs.

  1. Quality of the materials: ideally, the courses selected and stored in the national repository should be the best in their subject areas as a result of the comprehensive submission and selection process, from subject groups, faculties, and institutions to provincial and national levels, public rates and expert reviews. Most importantly, all the courses submitted, and not just those that are selected, should be well-designed and prepared as they are showcases for other resources in their own institutions repository as well as advertising their courses.
  2. Measurement and assessment of the quality of course resources: both users views and subject experts views are considered to decide what course resources are good and useful to other people.
  3. Communication results and promoting sharing: As a national annual programme, many people in HE are involved in developing courses resources or participating in the selection processes. Institutions, faculties and individuals pay attention to the new courses submitted, selected and published each year and know where to find the resources when they need them.
  4. Value for money: faculties and institutions need to invest in course resources so the funds only go to those courses which are selected. The funding bodies are more confident about which resources they should fund in terms of the quality of the resources and how they may be reused and shared by others. For institutions, encouraging individual and faculties to create and develop high quality courses not only secures further funding but also improves the quality of resources in their own repository.

Unfortunately, I was not able to access to the course resources in the repository from outside China. However, I finally found that some courses have been translated into English and published on China Open Resources for Education (CORE) website. I therefore explored several courses on this site, such as Traditional Chinese Culture Course which was produced by educators from Northwest University. The course resources include a course description, teaching plan, teaching materials assessment, reading list, teaching video and multimedia courseware. However, I had difficulty downloading the videos and multimedia courseware. I then looked at the lists of excellent courses from 2003 to 2007 published on the National Centre for Excellent Courses on the HE website and recognized several well-known experts in educational technology field in China who have been involved in developing courses. I believe that most novice lecturers or learners who teach and study educational technology, in particular educators and learners in under-developed areas in China, would wish to access and reuse these resources, and watch teaching videos. The centre for national excellent course resources website which publishes course information and links to the resources has 0.2 million views per day and the repository for storing the excellent course resources for reusing and sharing receives 0.4 million views per day.

A briefing paper on Open Educational Resources

Recently, I have been working with my colleagues, Sheila and Wilbert, looking at the latest developments and trends in Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives worldwide. JISC has a long term record of interest in sharing and re-using digital content and has already supported many institutional repository projects in the provision of free access to teaching and learning materials in HE/FE (such as Jorum). It appears that OER will have a significant impact on managing and accessing the existing repositories and in taking these initiatives forward as part of a global movement. We thought it might be useful to carry out a review of OERs that might benefit the JISC community in planning funding programs and in opening up discussions on future research directions concerning the use and re-use of digital content.

The work took much longer than we expected due to the complexity and rapid development of OERs. In the last few months, we have studied several well“known OER projects, such as MIT OCW, OpenLearn, Rice Connexions and have drawn invaluable lessons from them. We have reviewed a number of large scale studies on OERs to help gain a better understanding of the main issues in the field. In addition, by following OER blogs , David Wileys and Stephen Downes s blogs, we have been able to draw upon the latest thinking and debates on major issues. We also had a number of discussions with colleagues in CETIS, such as Phil and Lorna, and they have given us lots of valuable suggestions. We finally produced an OER briefing paper as a quick introduction to funding bodies, institutions and educators who are interested in OER initiatives. The paper includes three sections: a) the conceptual and contextual issues of Open Educational Resources; b) current OER initiatives: their scale, approaches, main issues and challenges; and c) trends emerging in Open Educational Resources, with respect to future research and activities.

The briefing paper is an initial attempt to get some input from the wider JISC community and get further debate started around the OER initiatives. It is intended to be a fluid document since the landscape on this subject is changing so rapidly at present. One of the ways we would like to keep it current would be to draw a group of people who are interested in OER together to continue to explore the issues, to share some thoughts and to participate in our discussions. Please contact Li Yuan (l.yuan@bolton.ac.uk or 01204903851) for more information about Open Content working group and further events at CETIS.