OER Synthesis and Evaluation / phase3CultureAndPractice
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Back to  ukoer3 Final Synthesis Report contents page

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3. Lessons Learned - Culture & Practice

Evidence to support this page at: Adoption of open practices | Enablers and Barriers | Open partnerships | Practices of different stakeholders


During phase two of the programme the notion of open educational practices (OEP) emerged as a growing area of focus in the UK and wider learning and teaching communities. The final synthesis report discussed issues around terminology of OER and OEP and the team also published two briefing papers which aimed to clarify some of the aspects emerging from the UKOER programme :Open Practices briefing paper.pdf and Open practice across sectors briefing paper.pdf


When considering changing practice in the earlier phases we were essentially focusing on practice around development and release of OER, but the emphasis has now broadened to include practices around use, re-use and re-purposing. Projects in phase three have routinely used the term open educational practice with their stakeholders and described changes in teaching approaches - highlighting the way open practices are impacting on pedagogic design and student involvement.


During phase three we have asked specific questions around OEP which aim to provide an insight into the different aspects of open practice for institutions, communities, educators and learners. Evidence from project reporting continues to highlight that engaging with OER can have significant impact on educational practice for a range of different stakeholders, and institutional engagement with wider notions of open practice (such as open access, open research, open scholarship, open data, etc.) is changing understanding at all levels of the institution. This is dependent to a large extent on the starting point of individuals or groups of individuals and their openness to change.


This phase of activity saw the rise of eBooks and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), although both have been around for several years, and happened in a climate of continued funding challenges for the HE and FE sectors. One of the projects (COMC Project - Coventry University) adopted a range of approaches to make some of their existing courses open and produced significant evidence of positive impact on students, wider practitioners and scholars. Their work also required staff to adopt new roles and transform their perceptions of themselves as educators. Their models challenge the current pervasive MOOC model and provide real evidence of change in open education practice.


We think we have effectively demonstrated that it is possible to open, connect and expand the conventional HE classroom, in ways that make it ‘significant’ (Wesch) to the student, scholar  and practitioner of today. What we are offering is also an active and viable alternative to the xMOOC model, which – despite its recent high profile and promotion -  we see as a reframing of traditional conservative (I talk – you listen / Broadcasting) pedagogy, within a networked media distribution model. (COMC Final Report)






Adoption of open practices

What does the phrase "open practices" mean for you and your project? What open practices have you observed among your stakeholders?

Practices are often context specific and the most interesting lessons have emerged in relation to specific discipline-based practice or linked to specific groups of practitioner, including students. Students engaging with OER through the projects revealed increasing awareness of the potential of OEP and appeared to embrace the opportunity to engage in a variety of different ways.

In terms of student awareness and attitudes toward OER, around one third of those participating in the questionnaire had heard of the term OER. Students overwhelmingly embrace the notion of open education and sharing materials, and already operate within a culture of sharing and supporting their peers, so the concept of universities sharing resources was welcomed and deemed advantageous. (HALSOER Final report)


These opportunities for students to be involved provide them with new understandings that go far beyond just benefiting from using the OER

“[Although] I worked as a summer intern in the School of Engineering at university, my experience has been valuable to the arena of engineering employment. For a start, I was liaising directly with a number of world-leading companies, and even charities, based in the UK, giving them my thoughts and opinions as to where some of their electronic resources would be relevant in undergraduate studies. I also gained from learning some of the finer details of how to convert their electronic content into open educational resources, OER; the specialist legal aspects and the use of file-sharing sites from a technical perspective… It was also useful to see academia from the lecturers’ side of things, getting to see how they are working with outside organisations to bring relevant case-studies and other learning content into university teaching. That was something that I did not fully appreciate was taking place between industry and academia. It is surely something I can give as innovative examples when I look to apply for a position in industry this year after my MEng studies.”[Year 4 MEng student] (CORE-SET Final Report)


However some concerns still persist amongst both academics and students that fee paying students may not be happy for their institutions to freely 'give away' learning materials.

“If students are paying £9,000 and part of their £9,000 is receiving a set of lectures and yet that set of lectures are available completely free on the internet what does that mean?” (Senior Executive 2012). (HALSOER Final report)


Part-time tutors emerged as an interesting group of practitioners with quite different experiences of, and relationships with, their institutions. Engaging with OER and OEP provided new ways to enhance their teaching and professional practices. Both the SESAME (Oxford Continuing education) and FAVOR (LLAS Centre at University of Southampton) projects highlighted a general openness from part-time tutors to releasing and using OER and identified a wide range of supporting mechanisms to help this disparate group to contribute to project activities.

Part-time/hourly-paid tutors have a range of varied motivations for working on a fractional basis and some may wish for greater integration into the academic life of their institutions, but others may not. The project team were initially convinced that hourly-paid tutors would be easily persuaded to participate in the project for several reasons: it would raise their profile within their institution and beyond; they could have a public professional profile which would be held outwith any institutional affiliation; they could participate in a research project and attend conferences etc. However, it quickly became clear to us that many such tutors choose their working patterns (rather than being forced by circumstances within an institution) and so do not necessarily have a particular interest in a professional profile or greater integration into their institution – and so were not that interested in open practice and the FAVOR project. Similarly, the lack of job security felt by tutors disinclined them to share their work generally.  (FAVOR Interim Report)


Despite some of the challenges presented by this group of practitioners, both projects reported favourable changes in practice by the end of their activities. As in previous phases of UKOER, the notion of allowing people to engage initially in a staged, non-threatening way proved particularly effective.

The Sesame project very much benefited from the earlier work of the UKOER programme in identifying potential benefits of open practice and using these to support our case, but we also developed a system that allowed engagement at a variety of levels which minimises the initial commitment, but made it easy to scale up. Thus, while tutors have been encouraged to release their own materials, they can also use the platform just to collate OER and other online resources for students. While evidence of this is still emerging we know from feedback this has encouraged some tutors who would not have otherwise set up a course site. (SESAME Final Report)


School teachers (as professionals and students) also emerged as an interesting  practitioner group who reported a culture of sharing as an 'essential part of their professional identity' but which also reported fears of their practice being judged as 'not polished enough' and not being widely aware of or using OER (DEFT final report). Two projects reported interesting changes in practice for this group through a focus on digital literacies (DEFT - Sheffield Hallam University) and supporting collaborative practice through the provision of resource banks (ORBIT - University of Cambridge). Both projects also raised specific challenges for this group of practitioners to address.

Overall, in the context of the project, the team have gained access to rich accounts of pedagogical practice with digital literacies in schools as well as a deeper insight into OER-related issues within that context. Our work with teachers brings into sharp focus issues which may not have been as prominent in the HEI context but are of key relevance to the school context, such as for instance issues related to e-safety, e-security; the ethical and pedagogical aspects of student-produced resources as well as a number of technological barriers in terms of access to web-based resources. (DeFT Final Report)


Subject-discipline contexts present rich areas for investigation into open practices with projects focusing on art and design (ALTO UK), medicine and dentistry (HALSOER), Media studies (COMC), Literature (Great Writers), Business (Opening up a Future in Business),  Materials Science (CORE-SET) and Renewable energies (REACTOR). What many projects illustrate is that previous engagement with OER through earlier phase projects has led to increased awareness and engagement of groups of staff within their institutions.


Many projects were working with stakeholders from outside the educational sector and the common feature of these was a general lack of awareness around OER and OEP.

Open practices were generally not initially visible in discussions with project partners who operated outside of the higher education sector. This was because the vast majority of them were not fully aware of the concept of open licensing or aspects of copyright and resource ownership. However, once a dialogue was established with partners, when they began to appreciate both the potential benefits and opportunities to be gained from adopting ‘open’ approaches in their day-to-day activities, then there was certainly a willingness for them all to engage and participate in the CORE-SET project. (CORE-SET Final Report)


Enablers and barriers

What enablers and barriers have you identified to the adoption of open practices by your stakeholders, and in what ways have you addressed them?

See also evidence from phase 1 and phase 2 of the programme for enablers and barriers to engaging with OER.


A range of enablers have been described during phase three which reflect those identified in previous phases, some of which focus on individuals such as reputational enhancement as an educator and as a professional practitioner, and others which reflect institutional support mechanisms to enable open practices.


One aspect to emerge during this phase has been the impact that having a sense of security can have on openness to sharing,  both in relation to being secure in their own ability to produce content of a high enough quality and of having job security.

Conversely, another coordinator reported that these factors inclined the tutors she had approached to share their work. She noted that her tutors were experienced teachers of long-standing and had a wealth of material ready to share with others. They were happy with their working conditions and not insecure about their work situation, and therefore saw no reason not to share work.  (FAVOR Final Report)


For individuals the 'feelgood factor' continues to feature as an important enabler and this also links to the use of champions to take the message forward within related practitioner communities. The use of champions provides opportunities to increase understanding of challenges and provides reassurance to colleagues.


Where open practices are related to the concept of publishing some academics see OER as an opportunity to publish more widely...

All contributors were happy to release their materials under the CC licence used at Oxford and felt that this was for the benefit of educating the world. Due to their closer involvement, our academic leads embraced the openness of the project:

“wider communication is the main point. Most academics want to communicate things; most conventional publishing fails to do that substantially” and
“I am much more likely to use OER than before, particularly outside my own area” Academic Lead (Great Writers Final Report)


Financial reward proved to be an enabler for some practitioner groups (Part-time tutors) and also for students. Many projects offered students opportunities to be involved in project activities (including testing, reviewing and contributing to development of OER). In addition to financial reward students also gained valuable experience and opportunities to develop work-based competences.

Student Ambassador - The drivers for being involved in this OER project included: To learn and be part of something that is valuable from an educational perspective Interest in public engagement, being able to “open the learning out a bit more” Wanting to be involved in an online project, an interest in digital formats in English Literature An interest in open access materials A way to demonstrate transferable skills on a CV The opportunity to write A faster way to get published and have their work in the public domain (which is a key concern when thinking of future jobs). (Great Writers Final Report)


Communities of Practice continue to be important enablers to support awareness raising and ongoing OEP. This is particularly important around notions of trusted sources and quality. Use of OER was encouraged by resources being appropriately tagged, quality validated, materials appropriate for different age groups and curricula, open licencing and adaptability.

Quality of resources is a paramount concern for practitioners and the use of ‘trusted sources’ (such as subject association websites and professional networks) was regarded as a way of ensuring that materials would be of a high standard. (ORBIT Final report)


Institutional or community support for skills and digital literacies of both staff and students was cited as an important enabler. Other institutional enablers included the provision of flexible approaches and the need to acknowledge and offer time saving opportunities elsewhere.

The key lesson learnt was that when providing development opportunities for part-time tutors there is a requirement for flexibility and opportunities need to be provided throughout the calendar year. In addition, where face-to-face training is required, this may need to be scheduled outside the normal working day, for example during evenings or on Saturdays, to ensure maximum uptake. (SESAME Final Report)


There are still very strong arguments around the need for institutional policies and procedures to support OEP - including licencing, ownership of content, administrative procedures to allow student internships, part-time working practices, etc. This may be of particular importance for organisations from other sectors that have not previously addressed issues around OER.


The issue of adapting existing policies or developing new policies emerged as an interesting discussion in phases one and two, and is closely connected to sustainability and different institutional approaches to OEP. So new policies can act as an important signal to staff that this is being supported at a high level in the institution, whilst adaptations to existing policies can signal that OEP should be embedded into normal everyday practices.


Time constraints remain a significant barrier in both using (re-using and re-purposing) and developing OER

While we are confident that this time commitment is likely to reduce with experience, it is not possible to ignore that this kind of activity is a significant extra commitment for busy part-time tutors, many of whom are paid a fee based solely on contact teaching hours. (SESAME Final Report)


Time constraints often link to challenges around legal constraints and clearing materials for open licences, particularly with resources created in the past with no regard for open licencing or legal sharing. Misunderstandings persist about legality of content generally available on the web (in contrast to resources being properly licenced for open use)

 a number of misconceptions related to copyright and sharing open resources - such as for instance that copyright is irrelevant if resources are intended for private and/or educational use. These misconceptions need to be addressed so that teachers can model good practice and take full advantage of benefits offered by Open Educational Resources. (DeFT Final Report)


Concerns about pedagogic fit were also highlighted for teachers who felt that creativity may be stifled by reliance on 'off the shelf' resources. Other barriers such as digital literacies and staff insecurities were increasingly identified as areas which could yield significant impact if addressed and improved through appropriate institutional or community support.  Teachers, in particular, revealed some very interesting tensions between showcasing their polished content and sharing 'real-life' practice.

 very reluctant to produce accounts which revealed their own struggles with technology that could potentially put their professional skills in a poor light. Similarly, as pointed out earlier, the PGCE students were keen to stress that they saw the process of sharing resources as an essential requirement of their chosen profession. On the other hand, when contemplating the possibility of releasing their own resources online so that they could be shared openly with others, the students said they would be very careful and would only consider sharing materials that were of sufficiently high quality. For instance, a number of students were quite adamant they would not want to share their lesson plans so as not to reveal that they ‘had no clue what they were doing’. (DeFT Final Report)


The complexity of creating and using OER remains a barrier for staff without the appropriate support that a funded project can offer. Individuals appear to need significant support in identifying and adapting existing OER for their own context and although resource banks and community supported initiatives can help with this, institutional support mechanisms will be needed to encourage longer term changes in practice. Whilst there is evidence that institutions involved in several phases of UKOER activity have increased awareness and competencies of staff and developed infrastructure to support open educational practices, there is less evidence that this is transferable outside individual institutions.

While open practices have become increasingly straightforward in recent years, creating and using OER is still complicated and there are many real barriers to engagement. Thus, in the implementation of the Sesame project the extent to which we could benefit from lessons learnt from earlier projects was less than hoped. While we used resources from OpenSpires11 and other UKOER phase 1 and 2 projects as much as possible, these materials had to be heavily customised, and in many cases we eventually developed materials virtually from scratch for our context. (SESAME Final Report)


Open partnerships

In what ways has engaging in open partnerships across institutions, organisations or sectors, affected the practices of your stakeholders?

Encouraging open partnerships within an institution is a challenge which requires significant changes in culture and practice for both support teams and subject based faculties. Focusing activities within one faculty or department can often be easier to manage because there may be at least some agreement of accepted pedagogic approaches and intentions, and a chance that a culture of sharing may also exist to some extent. This can be more challenging if the subject discipline does not traditionally depend on standard educational materials like textbooks or didactic teaching methods, like practice-based discipline in art and design.


The disruptive aspect of OEP can have significant impact on a wide range of institutional policies and practices because it requires a reconsideration of basic practices across the whole organisation.

OER/P engagement provides a source of ‘systemic disruption’ in our institutions which has powerful effects in a number of related dimensions:
•    Teaching, disciplinary and institutional cultures - in relation to transparency and accountability
•    IPR awareness and policy
•    Technical Infrastructure
•    Management structures
•    Pedagogy
•    Marketing
•    Institutional Strategy
•    Digital Literacy
This disruptive effect is potentially very useful to those involved in instigating and managing change in educational institutions. Linking OER/P engagement to change management is a useful strategy to employ and some studies and toolkits to support this would be useful (linked to previous work).
(ALTO Final Report)


Establishing open partnerships across institutions, particularly with partners from other sectors is equally challenging but reaps substantial reward. Whilst partners may be convinced of the potential benefits of open practice to support learning, their own organisational infrastructure, cultures and practices may be difficult to alter. Phase three projects worked with an impressive array of external partners, from commercial publishers and companies to 3rd sector bodies and they had to invest considerable time and energy to begin the process of awareness raising and eliminating some of the barriers. The initial groundwork made during this phase is impressive but may require ongoing support to maintain momentum and real long term change in practice with these partners. This may be compromised by lack of future funding to support these partnerships, although many projects report a willingness to continue to nurture the relationships they have worked hard to establish.

The partners will also continue working with colleagues in Elsevier to promote a potential paradigm shift towards viewing digital editions of books as the primary format from which print is derived. This would enable more granular subsections of licensed content to be incorporated into OER and promote a more cyclical process of publishing.(PublishOER Final Report)


Our work with private companies has been exciting and revealed an interesting openness to working with us in resource development. They have seen the benefits of this and been very generous in sharing some of their content and information to input into the resources.

The industry sector in which we work is dominated by ancient practices and associated forms of advertising. I was immediately drawn to what you are doing by the relative simplicity but also the way in which allowed non-engineers to understand processes. The fact that your project enables a much greater level of understanding can only be a benefit to bringing this industry sector up to date. (Private company) (ReACTOR Final Report)


Practices of different stakeholders

What means have you used to engage your stakeholders, and in what ways have these been effective?

A wealth of different approaches to engaging stakeholders emerged during the first two phases and these have proved equally appropriate in this phase with workshops, events, guides, FAQs and the use of champions featuring strongly.  Online communication methods were also important to maintain relationships with external stakeholders, such as the use of twitter, blogs and other social media.  Involving stakeholders in research and evaluation activities throughout the project improved engagement and provided tangible ways for partners to contribute. Taking a digital literacies focus proved to be quite effective for several projects using that as the way to engage staff with open practices.


Tailoring meetings and visits for specific stakeholders meant that projects had to adopt multiple approaches and imaginative methods for specific groups:

  • Part-time tutors presented challenges due to not being able to easily attend attend face to face meetings, so utilising existing frameworks, support systems and events proved useful (SESAME, FAVOR)
  • Individual visits to each partner site was a necessity for projects working with private companies to establish relationships, document protocols and perceptions (benchmarking) and to identify any specific challenges. There was a recognition that partners needed an opportunity to express their own needs and be given the space to do this. (REaCTOR, PublishOER, CORE-SET)
  • Tapping into existing networks has always been an efficient strategy, with regional networks proving useful for a few projects (DEFT, ORBIT, ReACTOR, Teesside)
  • Developing case studies proved effective for teachers and also provide evidence of effective engagement with different partners (DEFT, ORBIT, CORE-SET)


What has been the impact of OER development, release and reuse on the practices of your stakeholders?

Involving a diverse range of stakeholders provided opportunities to explore attitudes to sharing, releasing and using open content across institutions and highlights particular strengths or barriers affecting some stakeholder groups. Some of the partnerships with stakeholders provided mutual benefits, particularly in endorsing the quality and value of the OER and helping to disseminate or encourage use. Some partners took on different roles so skills councils (REACTOR), professional bodies and societies (HALSOER) appeared to naturally take on quality assessment or OER endorsement roles.

It is evident that those partners have also seen a real benefit of working with us in scoping, developing and disseminating these resources within the wider sectors, and the long term impact this has on improving resources to support the curriculum in a very fast moving industry. Not least this involvement with some very influential partners in the sector will have a very important impact on the use of the OER, their sustainability and on-going relevance, as their endorsement is highly valued. (ReACTOR Final Report)


Projects reported significant change in practice for those directly involved in the projects, and long term sustainability and embedding depends to a large extent on those individuals or communities cascading their practices further within their own organisations. In many ways the project activities helped to provide some of the infrastructure to further open sharing and useful partnerships.

CORE-SET is seen by the majority of our partners as being a timely project, since they have either only recently started using file share and social media sites, or instead have intended to do so; but, generally, with limited success. In addition, partners were keen to strengthen their links with higher education, which has hitherto rarely been devoted to issues of electronic resource and/or curriculum development. (CORE-SET interim report)


In what ways are the cultures of your stakeholders being challenged, strengthened or changed by the release and use of OER?

OER and OEP have also emerged as a useful mechanism to encourage dialogue between organisations that should perhaps already have been working together.

Communities of practice, professional bodies and societies all need to advocate OER, but essential is dialogue between these groups to ensure that even larger scale activities and projects are linked and not in isolation. There often are several national initiatives within similar areas – virtual analytical laboratories, open STEM – and these initiatives need to join up. (HALSOER final report)


Impact on specific aspects of stakeholder culture relates to how far the organisations (or individual within it) had already engaged with or embraced the notions of openness. Project activities had a notable impact on individuals involved with the projects and there is evidence of changes in practice which reflect changes in culture. 

Tutor feedback has been overwhelming on how much they have learnt through taking part in the project. Tutors have repeatedly impressed the management team by their enthusiasm to put their new knowledge immediately into practice with students and to reflect, evaluate and improve on the teaching resources that they are creating, using and sharing. This activity, driven by the focus of the project, seems to have made a real and lasting impact on the way they work: in preparing resources, seeking out new methods of working, involving students in preparing resources and in delivering content. These activities have taken place alongside discussions about teaching work with peers, which have fed into the cycle of reflection and reworking. (FAVOR Final Report)


In contrast, institutional culture change is a long process which requires substantial support to encourage long term embedding. Involving senior managers and linking activities to existing or new strategies or policies revealed potential for more institutional, as opposed to individual, culture change.

Senior management at the UAL and Brighton are now much more engaged with the OER agenda and are putting it into their strategic planning activities (ALTO Final Report)


Linking OER activities to digital literacy initiatives and approaches offers potential for longer term culture change with many institutions investing in this area for both staff and students.


By what means have you supported practice change among your stakeholders, and in what ways were these effective?

All phases of the UKOER programme have highlighted that adopting and supporting Communities of Practice (CoP) approaches supports sustainability, either through focusing community activities around a resource bank (ORBIT, FAVOR) or providing other community support activities.

A ‘blended’ approach to open practice is effective in encouraging engagement - The model that the FAVOR project employed seems to have been effective in building communities of practice around OER and also in maximising the impact and benefits of open practice. The model consisted of a local champion coordinating a local group of peers who shared training, ideas and good practice offline, and then shared their work online in LanguageBox, under their institutional profile. This made contact with the wider community. The effectiveness of this finding in community-building came out strongly in the external evaluation report which termed the FAVOR partners as ‘blended OER communities.’ (FAVOR Final Report)


Enablers described above reflect the different means that projects adopted. 


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