How can open educational practices and openly licensed resources support transitions?
Ronald Macintyre and I, on behalf of the OEPS team, attended the 2016 Enhancement Themes Conference on Student Transitions on the 9th June. These notes outline the content of our presentation. The slides are available on the OEPScotland slideshare site.
We began by explaining that Opening Educational Practices in Scotland is a three-year project funded by the Scottish Funding Council and led by the Open University in Scotland. The project is tasked to develop increased understanding of design, production and use of OER and OEP in Scotland with a particular focus on widening participation and transitions.
Before looking at transitions we gave a brief introduction to Open Education Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) and noted that they are becoming an increasingly important part of the educational landscape. The range and scope of free, openly licensed courses is increasing rapidly.
In the course of the project we have been developing our understanding of the relevance of OER and OEP to educational transitions. While some of our observations are relevant more generally, we focused in the presentation on transitions from non-formal or informal learning to formal learning at college or university. We then considered three connected ways in which OER and OEP are relevant to discussion of transitions.
The first starts from a student focus. Individuals making educational transitions do so in a world where digital technology has become ubiquitous. For some, a prerequisite of engaging with education is the acquisition of basic skills for digital participation. Many more will have experience of working with digital devices and tools such as Google and YouTube. They begin the learning journey that comprises their personal transition with a set of digital life-skills, assumptions and expectations. These are valuable and important, but not necessarily sufficient to operate in digital learning environments. Some of this experience will have been mediated through the availability of free and openly licensed material – although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will have explicit knowledge of ‘open education’. On course, in institutions, students continue to engage with digital resources. Acknowledging, understanding and influencing their behaviour is increasingly important for educators.
We argue therefore that good practice in supporting transition into formal education needs to acknowledge and value existing digital skills. Success and retention in formal education requires sustained support for the development of digital literacy skills appropriate to learning in further and higher education. A core part of digital literacy is an awareness of OER and issues relating to the use and sharing of openly licensed material.
Our second point concerns the impact of openly licensed materials on curriculum development. Educational institutions are often perceived as the custodians of ‘content’. But if good quality content is freely available, what then is the role of the college or university? We’ve explored some of the issues that are raised in a paper ‘Lifelong learning and partnerships – rethinking the boundaries of the university in the digital age’. In that paper we argue that in a as boundaries are reconfigured the role of the university in developing pedagogy and student centred supportive practice is heightened. We note that OER and OEP is already having an impact outside the academy, as third sector and other organisations concerned with non-formal learning, start to use OER and students acquire new types of credentials in the form of Digital Badges.
Finally we note that open education has been heralded as opening up new possibilities for widening participation. In practice, however, the use of OER and OEP in lifelong learning has been relatively limited. The OEPS project has worked with partners to understand why the promise of OER has not yet been fulfilled. Some reflections on this can be found in ‘Revisiting Barriers to Widening Participation in HE’. There have also been very few examples of OER courses being reversioned or remixed to address the needs and context of different learners in a lifelong learning context. One exception to this is ‘Caring Counts’, an OER developed at the OU in Scotland, which has its origin in a course designed to support refugees and migrant workers into education and employment. This was then reversioned on two occasions, once to meet the needs of Carers wanting to make the transition into education and again to meet the needs of professionals working for Carers’ organisations. The advent of new and more user-friendly authoring tools, which allow educationalists to edit, modify and add to openly licensed courses has the potential to enable low cost reversioning of good quality OER to suit specific widening participation groups. Sharing and developing resources across and between institutions becomes possible.
In conclusion we suggest that:
OER can help support learners and fill missing steps on learner journeys and/or in curriculum that aims to support transitions.
It’s necessary to accept OER and OEP are part of learner journeys; openness is pushing into HE through learners’ experience, and we need to support and develop learners’ ability to use these resources.
OER and OEP have the potential to reshape the development of curriculum, to help providers reach out, allow communities and learners to reach in, to create curriculum relevant to learners and their context.
Pete Cannell and Ronald Macintyre (for the OEPS project team)