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OERs Matters at ALT- C

Christina Smart
Last modified 09 Sep, 2009
Published 09 Sep, 2009
Different perspectives on Open Educational Resources were explored yesterday at the “OERs Matters – vision, reality and uncertainty” symposium at the Association for Learning Technology Conference in Manchester.

Professor Oleg Liber, JISC CETIS Director, chaired an entertaining panel of role-played stakeholders; each exploring the opportunities and challenges that adopting the approach would have on them, their institution and nationally.

As a new lecturer in the Business School at her University Pollyanna Pegler (aka Chris Pegler, The Open University) is an enthusiastic user of OERs and said she was excited by the range of open resources available to her in her subject area. The fact that these resources are free and open made the whole process of acquiring them and sharing them with colleagues that much easier.

Professor Will Pileham-Highe (aka Prof Mark Stiles, Staffordshire University) is a Pro Vice Chancellor at Smalltown University. He said he’s read a lot about OERs and understood their potential but was struggling to see the benefit for his institution. “What would our unique selling point be?” he asked. He felt unable to justify to his colleagues on the executive the initial investment that moving towards producing OERs would require.

An international perspective on open educational resources was provided by Quentinna Yan a teacher from China (aka Li Yuan, JISC CETIS). She described how she’d become a teacher entirely through self-learning using OERs. Her concerns about using these sorts of resource included, evaluating their quality, the level of academic support available, and how assessment and accreditation would occur.

Tom Franklin (learning technology consultant) was well type cast as Professor Ogden Wisden from Wigan University who was unconvinced about the idea of Open Educational resources. Using some back of the envelope calculations he’d estimated that each item in the JORUM cost between £1000 and £2000. He was also concerned about the quality of most of the items he found, “at least publishers have checked the quality of textbooks” he said. “And what is my legal position if these items turn out to be breeching copyright or libellous?” he asked.

Joe Zawinul (aka David Kernohan, JISC Programme manager) explained the government position on open educational resources. In a global environment of cuts in government spending we need to think about making efficiencies, he said. Through using Open Educational Resources it would be possible to simplify our systems, improve quality and cut costs. In addition, “The best learning content can be made available to everyone” he said, and it would allow our universities to explore new markets.

The panel then answered questions from the floor, either as their character, or themselves (sometimes it wasn’t clear which!). The discussion was wide ranging, some of the points are outlined below.

One participant wondered whether some OER initiatives might not be successful because they are mandated in a top down way, whereas bottom up approaches like Slideshare are popular with lecturers.

Mark Stiles raised concerns about the granularity of materials, those for use within face to face courses would require much less supporting material than those for self and distance courses.

Tony Toole (University of Glamorgan) wondered what the future impact of globalisation might be and that new opportunities would arise from institutions pursuing the OER route.

The thorny issue of addressing quality was raised. “What is world class learning content?” asked David Kernohan, and who would you trust to assess the quality of learning materials?

In order for academics to buy into the idea of producing OERS they would need to be convinced that doing so would enhance their reputation in a way that producing research papers does, was another suggestion.

John McLaughlin from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills suggested that since tax payers already paid for Universities they had a right to access the materials for free, raising the issue of the purpose of education.

Oleg unpicked the acronym Open Educational Resources. We would agree that Open Resources like Wikipedia are a good thing, he said, and also Educational Resources like text books. We’d probably all agree that Open Education was desirable, combining the words often leads to confusion, he said.

From an institutional perspective Mark Stiles said it was important to make sure that the business case for using OER was aligned with the other organisational ambitions. In the case of the University of Staffordshire its strong links with employers and the work based learning agenda means that taking an OER approach would enable them to more quickly generate new and tailored courses.

Over the coming months the JISC and HE Academy OER pilot projects will explore many of these issues in their own contexts and institutions.

ALT-C 2009:In Dreams Begins Responsibility


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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