This week, we are continuing our exploration of open education & OER by reviewing some of the published research in this area and also considering the key challenges faced by the OER movement.
Before exploring the key challenges, let’s consider some of the perceived benefits of OER. According to JISC (2014) the release of OER can help meet a number of strategic goals, including:
- Engagement with a wider community
- Engagement with employers
- Sustaining vulnerable subjects
- Enhancing marketing and engagement of prospective students worldwide
- Brokering collaborations and partnerships
Additionally, JISC (2014) state that the release of OER can also benefit a number of stakeholder groups including:
Learners – benefit from:
- Seeing/applying knowledge in a wider context than their course would otherwise allow, eg international dimension
- Support for learner-centred, self-directed, peer-to-peer and social/informal learning approaches
- The opportunity to test out course materials before enrolling – and compare with other similar courses
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The OER originator – benefit from:
- Student/user feedback and open peer review
- Opportunities to work across sectors, institutions and subject disciplines
- Increased digital literacies (particularly around IPR)
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Educational institutions – benefit from:
- Wider availability of their academic content and focus on the learning experience (linking to widening participation agenda)
- Increased capacity to support remote students
- Increased sharing of ideas and practice within the institution, including greater role for support services
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Despite the number of benefits associated with the release of OER there are still a number of issues, which must be overcome before institutions and individuals can fully ‘buy-into’ the OER movement. From my reading of de los Arcos et al. (2014) & McGill et al. (2013), I perceive the following three key issues of OER:
ISSUE 1: Availability of re-usable OERs and licensing
Although there is growing awareness of OER and Creative Commons licensing among educators, de los Arcos et al. (2014) report that knowledge of, and usage of OER repositories remains relatively low. Instead, such repositories are overshadowed by sites such as YouTube, Khan Academy and TED, who enjoy a global presence and reputation.
This issue is further compounded by low levels of educators creating resources and publishing them using a Creative Commons licence. In the survey conducted by de los Arcos et al. (2014), only 12.4% (n=80) of educators (n=644) did this, despite 86.3% of educators (n=556) stating that they had adapted resources previously.
This finding was also highlighted as a challenge within the McGill et al. (2013) report, who report that many of the existing ‘open’ resources could not be re-purposed either due to them not being published under a Creative Commons licence and/or not being technically or pedagogically re-purposable. Therefore, creating a new issue of ‘closed openness’. The McGill et al. (2013) report also found that it was more cost efficient to release new materials, rather than re-purpose existing materials due to the time taken to track provenance and clear copyright for open release.
Despite this, recent technological and legal developments such as the ‘Hargreaves Review of IP‘, ‘Digital Copyright Exchange (DCE), now known as the Copyright Hub‘ and increased availability of tools to understand the different Creative Commons licences, have made it easier not only for OER creators to licence their resources, but also to locate rights holders to seek permission to use their works.
ISSUE 2: Institutional awareness of OER and the development of open education practice (OEP)
Since 2001, educational resources have been made available for free from reputable Universities such as MIT and The Open University. Despite this, many university leaders have overlooked this development, focusing instead on other agendas such as research activity and more recently, the launch of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to attract/target new student markets. This has not only slowed the potential growth of the OER movement, but has potentially resulted in institutions missing out on opportunities to collaborate and form partnerships with other institutions (both nationally and internationally).
Institutional uptake of OEP has been further hindered by current UK government policy encouraging competition between HEIs, which in turn mitigates against a culture of open sharing (McGill et al., 2013). Previous aspirations of providing universal access to knowledge may conflict with new strategies around commercial practice, therefore requiring changes in practice and possibly the culture of the institution (McGill et al., 2013).
Research reports such as those written by de los Arcos et al. (2014) & McGill et al. (2013) are helping HEIs to understand not only the benefits and business case for OEP and the production of OERs, but also to learn from the ‘lessons learnt’ from previously funded projects, thereby reducing the risk for individual institutions.
To further encourage the development OEP, institutions should also consider how existing institutional barriers such as: risk management, technical limitations, hosting etc. (McGill et al., 2013) can be overcome to allow staff to further explore the usage of, and development of OERs.
ISSUE 3: Funding and OER sustainability
The third issue affecting the viability and sustainability of OER is funding. The development, hosting and maintenance of OER materials can cost thousands of pounds. Because of this, institutions may be reluctant to invest resources (time and money) into OER projects, which cannot provide a clear return on investment (ROI). Instead, the offering of OER ‘taster’ courses, can not only help to attract students to specific courses of study, but can also improve general institutional recognition (McGill et al., 2013).
With this in mind, McGill et al. (2013) report that there is a growing acknowledgement of the need to ‘build and support open and sustainable communities to share practice and resources’. This can range from teachers, as well as learners contributing to OER repositories through to collaborative approaches to tackle ongoing challenges such as: awareness raising, licensing and trust issues, development of ‘open’ standards and technologies.
Furthermore, HE institutions must be enabled through government policy and new/existing funding streams to create policies and practices, which support staff to ‘accelerate the transformations required to contribute and benefit from this global movement’.
Developments within the field of OER and OEP have the power to benefit society as a whole, rather than just individual institutions and should be favourably supported! However, in order for the various aspirations to be met, further work must be undertaken by all, especially HEIs and global governments to break down the current barriers preventing the use and re-use of OER including technical and legal aspects.
JISC (2014) Open educational resources (OERs) [Online]. Available at: https://jisc.ac.uk/guides/open-educational-resources (Accessed 29 March 2016).
de los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Perryman, L.-A., Pitt, R. and Weller, M. (2014) OER Evidence Report 2013-2014 [Online]. Available at: https://oerresearchhub.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/oerrh-evidence-report-2014.pdf (Accessed 27 March 2016).
McGill, L., Falconer, I., Dempster, J. A., Littlejohn, A. and Beetham, H. (2013) Journeys to Open Educational Practice: UKOER/SCORE Review Final Report, Jisc [Online]. Available at: https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/60338879/HEFCE-OER-Review-Final-Report (Accessed 27 March 2016).