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?

Bridging community approaches and institutional approaches in developing OERs

Two common approaches have been used by current OER initiatives: the institution-based approach and the community-based approach. The UKOER pilot programme funded three project strands – institutional, subject centre and individuals. These provided opportunities to further explore these approaches separately and to look at how they could benefit from each other in institutional contexts.
At the OER in the Disciplines conference in London last week, I attended a workshop which was to look into the differences between discipline focussed community approaches and institutional approaches and their advantages and disadvantages. The discussion was facilitated by a JISC/HEA funded project – Humbox team and participants were from various OER projects from the OER pilot programme and the UKOER2.
The workshop started with a short presentation from the HumBox, a community-driven repository for the humanities which had been developed using community-focussed approach. They shared key principles to make community building easy around repository design and workflow, such as a profile page for users to introduce themselves and their work and interests, clear guidance on self-reviewing before publishing resources and peer review processes for feedback and tracking the usage; open tagging and category process to make materials easy to find, etc. Then EdShare, a well-used institutional repository from University of Southampton shared their experiences on institutions’ approaches to OERs. The presentations provided a starting point to initiate the discussion on how far institutional and community approaches to OERs differ and how far they may complement each other.
There was general agreement amongst participants that institutional-based approaches tend to provide central management and support mechanisms to deal with copyright, IPR, quality control and technical support which are very useful to help academics new to produce OERs. However, this closed model is likely to be used as a showcase for courses by institutions to attract students rather than allowing academics to share and release their teaching and learning materials freely. On the other hand, community–based approaches are discipline-driven, involving academics from different institutions. This greatly increases the diversity of recourses and opens opportunities for academics to work with others in the same discipline from different institutions. The self publishing mechanism and peer review process encourage academics to share and reuse teaching materials and improve the quality of the resources through peer review and feedback.. It also has been mentioned that sometimes community approaches lack protection for academics on copyright and IPR issues and also lack technical support. It has been suggested that there is a need to look into how community approaches could be integrated into institutional contexts and what mechanisms are needed to bridge the institutional approaches and community approaches to best use the advantages of both approaches.