Category Archives: Conferences

Exploring barriers to participation in open, online learning

The 38th Annual CALRG conference started on 14th June 2017. During the afternoon session OEPS presented ‘Exploring barriers to participation in open, online learning’.  Across the three-years of the project our work with partner organisations has enabled us to develop a deeper understanding of barriers to participation and to consider how the literature on widening participation correlates with that on digital participation, access and literacy.

The presentation shared our learning on these issues including the key barriers to participation identified during our action research:

  • Online platforms that look / feel like a university
  • Vast quantity of information available
  • Perception that online learning means individual learning
  • Past negative experience of online learning
  • Limited digital literacy
  • Distinction formal learning v. everyday self-directed learning

We also explained our participatory design, co-creation process for developing in new open educational resources and presented two case study examples of how we have incorporated these practices and findings into free open courses hosted on OpenLearn Create.  We made suggestions as to why other institutions might find participatory design of open educational resources useful and how the barriers to widening participation in open, online learning might be addressed including through contextualised pedagogy, focusing on learners, using trusted gate keepers / facilitators to engage learners, providing opportunities to share social learning and make connections between existing skills /digital literacy and online learning.

 

The slides for the OEPS presentation can be accessed on Slideshare.

All the presentation slides from the CALRG conference, conference papers and poster presentations are available on the CALRG website.

 

Pic credits:

‘Promise of open education’, by Anna Page, CC BY NC SA 4.0

‘Tackling barriers’, by CALRGatOU

 

Is open and online reconfiguring learner journeys?

Tuesday 6th June marked the first day of the 3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference held in Glasgow. The conference coincides with the final year of QAA Scotland’s ‘Transitions’ enhancement theme. At the Enhancement Themes Conference in 2016 the OEPS team explored the relevance of OER and OEP to educational transitions. This year in our presentation we focussed on the question ‘Is open and online reconfiguring learner journeys?’

We noted that learner journeys may involve transitions from informal or self-directed to formal learning, between sectors and between education and employment. These transitions are negotiated in environments where digital technology is becoming ubiquitous. Organisations that support transitions now believe that supporting the development of digital skills is essential and some are making use of open resources.   Almost all students, young and mature, now arrive in HE with some digital skills – some may have new forms of credential (open badges). These provide a platform for developing digital literacy and the skills appropriate to learning in higher education.

We raised the possibility that as a result it may be necessary to rethink the pedagogy that underpins transitions and concluded with two questions for reflection:

  • Is there a disconnect between pedagogy, practice, student needs and student experience?
  • And if there is what does this imply for supporting widening participation transitions?

et 2017ET Themes by Pete Cannell, CC BY SA 4.0

The slides for the OEPS presentation can be accessed on slideshare.net

All the presentation slides from the Enhancement Themes conference (keynote and parallel), conference papers and poster presentations are available on the Enhancement Themes website.

Pete Cannell

 

 

What does open mean beyond releasing content? #porousuni

Guest blog by Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer (Digital Learning), Glasgow Caledonian University. Originally published on 5th May on her blog HowSheilaseesIT.

I’m really looking forward to the Porous University Symposium being held at UHI, Inverness next week.  The event is fundamentally an opportunity to create some space to create/extend conversations around open-ness.   There are no formal presentations or papers instead:

the symposium will be structured around a number of short provocations that address specific questions or issues, followed by break-out discussion and opportunities to further explore and synthesise the thinking that emerges.

In the spirit of open-ness here is my provocation. It’s much more about stimulating and continuing an already rich dialogue. Please feel free to add any of your thoughts in the comments and will incorporate them into the discussion, or tweet using #porousuni.

What does open mean beyond releasing content?

This blog post from Alan Levine gives a helpful definition of the differences between porosity and permeability.

when you say porosity it really means just the volumetric measure of open space. If you want a metaphor, maybe this is measure of “openness” in terms of 5Rs.

But when you say permeability you are talking about the ease of moving something through that space, and while the amount of space is a factor, others influence whether that can happen. Specifically that could mean if the spaces are well interconnected, like pathways, like networks? Maybe that is practice or pedagogy?

So in terms of the porous university maybe we need to be focusing on the permeability of people (staff, students, the wider community) and the ways we navigate through university spaces, both physical and digital.

So what does open porosity actually look like in practice? Is it about formal (licensed) open content and infrastructures or is it human processes, practice and connections?

During April there has been quite a wide-ranging debate on the definition of open pedagogy facilitated through the Year of Open. Should it be defined and aligned only to the 5Rs of retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute? Does using the term pedagogy actual create more exclusion? Is open practice far more permeable, inclusive and powerful?

In these challenging times open has to mean more than content it has to be building and sustaining open networks and connections. However, is an obsession with licensed content, our academic discourse(s), our research outputs actually narrowing the opportunities for open education outwith the academy?

Recommended viewing/reading.

 

This post was originally published as one of a number of provocations at the Porous University event OEPS co-hosted with the Learning and Teaching Academy, University of Highlands and Islands.

It was published on HowSheilaseesIT under Creative Commons License . It is republished under the same CC BY NC SA licence.

 

Open doesn’t work.

So, that’s the attention-grabbing headline out of the way…

But the evidence is in the numbers. Despite some incredible Open Educational Resources being available, they are simply not used as much as they should; The Open University has enviable retention rates, but only when considered as *distance* education retention rates, far lower than proximate universities; open online courses, the dream of so many liberal practitioners, have some of the poorest retention and success rates of any type of learning and teaching. Ever.

Just making stuff ‘open’ does not work.

It’s not a new argument – being open ensures that only those who are aware, able and capable can actually make use of it. When it is merely open, it is the culmination of a neoliberal wet dream, ensuring a greater filter is placed on social mobility than if explicit characteristics were the determinant. Ironically, the open movement has become a coopted centrepiece of the neoliberal movement – it is possible to claim we are open whilst actively ensuring only some get through.

Conversely, an educational elite utilises ‘open’ to claim scaled benefits through student-centred learning, usually through demonstration and single inspirational examples. It often relies on a techno-progress paradigm of ‘always open’ digital engagement – everyone contributes and is happy to do so leading to amazing things. The technology-as-progress-narrative is heavily utilised and pessimistic voices are not allowed. Normal, ordinary and non-aspirational are not represented here. Again, the open movement is coopted in the construction of this dream.

This provocation claims that the word ‘open’ is the underlying problem – open, on its own, is not enough and never has been.

If open worked, people would be using libraries regularly and successfully.

If open worked, people would be using open courses regularly and successfully.

If open worked, we wouldn’t even be having this ‘conversation’.

And that’s because there is no such thing as ‘open’ in itself. It’s a descriptor and qualifier – a word that describes and changes things it’s attached to. To see that in action go back to the original ideas behind the OU again:

“…to provide education of University and professional standards for its students and to promote the educational well-being of the community generally.”

That was the blank cheque. The vague dream – nothing more. The hard reality required decades of work to ensure both the academic quality as well as the scalability to do what administrators in universities keep forgetting is needed – engage in a form of teaching that allows, promotes and develops learning through personal development.

The model the OU evolved used open as a qualifier – not as a dream or ethical stance. It was a practical, teacher-y thing to do and became known as Supported Open Learning.

In other words, it was realised very early on that open is not enough. You can’t just open doors and say “here’s a bunch of stuff, I’ll be back to subject you to a terrific examination later in your life!”. In fact, simply being open and doing nothing as you allow students fail is arguably worse than being closed (I won’t cite the literature on this because it will make you cry).

Open has to be supported properly because there is not one type of student when you serve a general population. Outside a normal self-selecting university population fraction, a huge range of learning and teaching is required – this is the population for whom normative education is more likely to be less effective.

And that’s before we consider supported open pastoral care, general learning development, additional educational needs, outlying academic communities…

Open education isn’t something that exists in and of itself (except to further the ideologies outlined above).

So I agree with, and give the last word to, @sheilmcn on this: open is something you do.

 

Guest blog by Derek Jones, Lecturer in Design, The Open University.

This post was originally published as one of a number of provocations at the Porous University event OEPS co-hosted with the Learning and Teaching Academy, University of Highlands and Islands.

UALL Conference – York 2017

UALLPic1

UALL Conference programme

The Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) annual conference was held in York on the 6th and 7th of April.  The conference themes highlighted the local, regional and international dimensions of lifelong learning. The introductory plenary by Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor of York St Johns University, highlighted the challenges that adult education faces. In England, mature HE enrolments have fallen by nearly a third since the introduction of the high fee regime. In Scotland, although the policy environment is different, there has been a steep decline in part-time provision through the college sector and major reductions in the opportunities offered through Community Learning Development.  However, Karen noted emerging themes in policy agendas in which lifelong learning is critically important.

The presentations at the conference reflected the conference themes and were clustered into four main areas: Pedagogy, partnership, work based-learning / professional development and outreach.  Contributions from Scandinavia on innovative, work-based approaches to professional education were particularly interesting. The OEPS contribution was entitled ‘Creating openly licensed courses for use in workplace and community settings’. In it we looked at the pressures on third-sector organisations with an interest in education and training as a result of the decline in mainstream adult education provision.

In the UK organisations that are not part of the formal education sector play an important role in supporting lifelong learning. Third sector organisations and trade unions are prominent in this activity although public and private employers also play a part.  For the third sector the last decade has been a time of significant change, with reductions in funding, changes in role and a need to adapt to new educational demands driven by the rapid increase in the availability and use of digital technology. The OEPS presentation drew on evidence from a large-scale project in Scotland that aimed to increase the use of free and openly licensed online courses by non-traditional learners.   It explored the ways in which the third sector is responding to new challenges and looked at the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for organisations engaged in promoting online learning. We examined the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for such organisations and reflected on the nature and value of educational partnerships that work across the informal/formal boundary and explored examples of where such partnerships extend to the coproduction of new educational materials and educational practice. We then outlined the challenges that such partnerships present and outlined how we had incorporated approaches drawn from participatory design in the Learning Design workshops we have facilitated with partners. We noted that as a result, partners develop insight into the learner context at the same time as challenging deep-seated perceptions and assumptions about appropriate practice and pedagogy.

The UALL 2017 awards winner was also announced at the conference and went to the Brighton based community project ‘The Bevy‘. We were pleased that the OEPS project was runner up and highly commended.  This is recognition for all those individuals and organisations which have participated in the multiple strands of the OEPS project and shared practice, ideas and creativity.

Pete Cannell

Reflections on OE Global and OER17 – part 2

by Anna Page (OEPS project)

Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17 'The Politics of Open'

Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17 ‘The Politics of Open’

After spending time at OE Global in Cape Town, 4 weeks later I was attended the first day of OER17 in London, chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski, where I was fortunate to hear two great keynote speakers challenge our perceptions about open education.  Maha Bali encouraged us to think about how OER might be viewed in situations where intellectual property of material is less relevant to teachers because of their country curriculum situation or where academic freedoms, taken for granted in many Western democracies, are not available to certain groups of society, particularly women. Or where access to the internet was limited or restricted, depending on ability to pay (access to the internet is never free).  She pointed out the inequalities of treatment of internet users with some being more vulnerable to harassment, trolling or surveillance than others. In addition the interpretation of accessibility of materials came under scrutiny.  Maha Bali asked the question about whether openly licenced works follow the letter but not the spirit of openness.  She asked us to think about which of two options was more openly accessible:  the use of complex academic language in an openly licenced article or material written in accessible language but carrying a more restrictive Creative Commons licence, such as no derivatives.  She challenged us to think about the model of western funding for third world projects which did not explore the needs of the beneficiaries and impose solutions which subsequently don’t work or influence those seeking funding to conform to western ideas of what should work, without due regard for the cultural and contextual needs of their communities.

Maha Bali

Maha Bali

Maha opened up her keynote to get live open educational practice stories from the audience, which meant the development of her keynote was not ‘complete’ until she was delivering it as she responded to each story and led into the next prepared idea seamlessly, therefore breaking the accepted view of a lecture being about delivering ideas in one direction of transmission rather than exchange, a demonstration of ‘open educational practice’ in action.  She also explored the birth of ideas and intentions (comparing them to seeds) and how they might be nurtured first in private (hidden deep inside) then emerge into the public when they were ready to be shared (make explicit) where nurturing would need to continue by all involved to reap the rewards.

Later, in the second keynote, Diana Arce got us to think about the use of art as a tool for involving people in political activism.  She took us through a thought-provoking and lively journey of how art in public spaces is used and interpreted taking into account who commissions it and the location in which it is placed.  She showed how audience involvement in its creation was essential to empower people to understand, think and grow, offering them an alternative narrative via open spaces to share art and dialogue.  The essential message was “don’t tell people what to think”, use art to help their ideas and contributions emerge.  Open projects could use artists as strategists for development of open resources, going to where people are in order to engage them in the act of creation and knowledge building.

Diana Arce

Diana Arce

After the first keynote at OER17, I attended a panel discussion called Perspectives on Open Education in a World of Brexit & Trump (#trexit), with panellists Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell (from Open Scotland), James Luke and Martin Weller.  In addition to the four panellists, there were video recordings from 4 others who contributed real life examples of how these votes which have changed the global political landscape are affecting their academic practice, which the panel then discussed and opened to the floor for comments and questions.  It was sobering to see how the laptop ban on flights from certain countries to the US and UK is seriously affecting the progress of a PhD student and had also negatively affected keynote presenter Maha who had travelled from Egypt without her laptop or presentation on a memory stick (she had put it into cloud storage online before travelling).  The theme of the conference was very evident in this discussion, and it was clear that ‘Open is always political’.

The parallel sessions in the afternoon offered plenty of choice and inevitable clashes – my OEPS presentation was on at the same time as the OEPS presentation given by Ronald Macintyre.  Mine was the third in a group of 3, the first of which was about Academic confidence building with student use of Wikipedia, as they learn to collate Wikipedia subject pages (enhancing their digital literacy) and the second was an introduction to the MOIN project which is just starting to explore the challenges of cross-sectoral use of OER in Germany, where significant barriers still exist.  These include legal barriers (licencing) and the lack of knowledge about where to find OER, training and digital literacy, all issues we grapple with on this project.  It seemed fitting to follow this with the OEPS presentation about the evolution and further development of the OpenLearn Create platform for hosting open courses and the open educational practices modelled by the OEPS approach to course building in partnership.  Several questions and a lively discussion followed the three presentations, including questions to me about whether OpenLearn Create would get inundated by courses which might not follow good practice or break the terms of use of the site.  My response was that since the redesign in January we have had one spam course so far which has been taken down and that the Terms of use need to be more explicit in site usage and on data protection, so there is further work to do.  However so far the site has not been flooded with lots of new courses built by third parties on their own, most people seem to be quite tentative in getting started without contacting us first.

Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER17

Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER17

I also enjoyed the subsequent parallel session which included the OEPS presentation Exploring International Open Educational Practices presented by Beck Pitt, Bea De Los Arcos, and Michelle Reed in which they explored various definitions of OEP, some of the case studies and the emerging framework of open practice based on the research to date.  This was followed by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz’s Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness which explored how purist definitions of open can be a limitation to open practice, with pragmatism helping to address the challenges.  Then Michelle Harrison and Irwin Devries presented Advocating for Open: the role of learning support professionals in changing practice, which reminded us that external online support networks are often the only source of support the lone open educational practitioner might have if their institution doesn’t have a policy or support mechanism for OER, and this has not changed much in the past two years, according to their research.

From my perspective, the key messages which crossed both conferences showed that the awareness of OER, what it is, how it can be used, reused, and created is still in its infancy in many educational organisations, let alone in the third sector and there is much to do to make it and the practices which enable it to become more mainstream.  A rallying cry at OE Global was for OER advocates to be more vigorous in actively marketing OER and OEP.  This would help to balance the professional HE marketing of their online lectures/open textbooks/MOOCs which often drowns out really good community produced OER which may have better pedagogical value than a series of online video lectures not viewed in their original context.  The thorny question of how to measure the impact of OER was also voiced at both conferences, though to a certain extent good practice surrounding this question is explored in Becoming an open educator.

In addition, a strong message was that OER will not be adopted by learners and teachers if it is imposed, only if it is created collaboratively, The OEPS experience of collaborative open course production in partnership is one example of how this can work to the benefit of learners.  Widening participation continues to be a strong theme of the OEPS project and will be discussed at the forthcoming Porous University seminar in May 2017.  In both the OE Global and OER17 presentations I shared the questions we consider when we reflect on partnerships using open education: “if partners are looking to OER development as a way to fill structural holes in individual learning journeys, what are the implications for formal learning providers with a focus on widening participation?  Does this mean that formal providers would have less of a role in widening participation if external organisations fill these holes or, more constructively, can formal providers see this as an opportunity to work more closely with external organisations to enhance their formal curriculum? By using OER created as a bridge to formal learning, learners can be provided with qualifications which directly relate to their career and lifelong learning opportunities?” (OEPS presentation extended narrative for OE Global 2017).

In a world of #trexit and austerity budgets which are reducing public services including education, it is all the more vital for HE, FE and third sector organisations to work in collaboration to ensure that a good education is open to as many people as possible.

Image credits: Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski welcome us to OER17, Beck Pitt presenting for OEPS at OER by Anna Page and licensed CC BY 2.0.  Maha Bali and Diana Arce images by Josie Fraser for OER17.

Reflections on OE Global and OER17 – part 1

by Anna Page (OEPS project)

Cape Town Convention Centre

Cape Town Convention Centre

Attending a Higher Education conference is always unique to each person.  There is always a lot going on and with presentations scheduled in parallel sessions it is impossible to attend everything or talk to everyone.  This year OEPS had a poster and a presentation at OE Global which for the first time was held in Cape Town and then a few weeks later had several presentations at OER17 in London.  These are my reflections of attending both conferences.

I was fortunate enough to present a poster and presentation for OEPS at the 3 day OE Global conference, hosted by the University of Cape Town and chaired by Dr Glenda Cox, in the mother city of South Africa.  The conference was held in the city based international conference centre, rather than on campus which sits on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak.  OE Global is organised by the Open Education Consortium and has always been in the ‘global north’ so it was good that the open education researchers in the ‘global south’ were given the opportunity to host it and challenge ‘global north’ perspectives about open educational resources (OER) and open educational practice.  I had not attended OE Global before so it was an enormous privilege to travel such a great distance to present on behalf of OEPS in the city of my birth.  Everyone I spoke with at the conference was very engaged in open education and how it might be used to improve the educational opportunities of a wider group of learners.

View of Table Mountain and Lions Head

View of Table Mountain and Lions Head

There was significant representation at OE Global by two overlapping groups – the ROER4D project, convened by UCT and the GO-GN researchers, convened by the OERHub based at The Open University.  I attended several presentations by people from these groups, including a discussion about making use of MOOCs at UCT and another about understanding lecturer’s adoption of OER at three South African universities, postgraduate students as OER capacitators and exploring open educational practices of first year students at a SA university.  I was interested in collaborative practices, so attended a presentation on teacher collaboration and practice (by Melissa King of BRIDGE, an NGO) which also explored the thorny question of measuring impact of OERs and one about teacher professional learning communities in India (this was a ROER4D sub project).

OE Global Gala Dinner

OE Global Gala Dinner

I was fascinated by the experience of an OER creation novice, Professor Jasmine Roberts from the USA, who discussed the impact of authoring OER on student engagement, learning and retention when she authored an open textbook for her students because the existing textbooks didn’t cover what they needed for their class. Early in her presentation she identified key reasons why more teachers are not using or creating OER: This is the same issue that Josie Fraser and others discussed at the OEPS forum 4 last year and is a challenge common to both ‘global north’ and ‘global south’ educators. Some of us in the session were able to point Jasmine to online resources which offer such advice and support, such as OEPS Becoming an open educator and How to make an open online course OERs on OpenLearn Create.  However it was also clear from her experience that supportive open educational practice networks to help with answering specific questions about OER creation can help give OER creation novices the confidence to make a good start or to avoid some of the pitfalls along the way.  It was encouraging to learn that the open textbook she offered her learners for free was well received, proved accessible to the learners and had a positive impact on their learning and enjoyment of the class.

Anna by the OEPS Poster

Anna by the OEPS Poster

The issues about making the work of researchers in the global south more visible and discoverable was explored by a presentation about the ROER4D curation and dissemination strategy.  This strategy aims to make content open by default when it is legally and ethically possible to do so, especially if this increases its value to learning.  I liked the fact that in the reasons why it was necessary to have such a strategy, all the arguments for good academic practice were cited as also good open educational practice.  This was approached in a way to make it attractive to an academic to implement.

The poster sessions were in the coffee breaks and I was able to discuss the poster with several people as well as hand out OEPS leaflets, stickers and OpenLearn pens!

My presentation was on the last day in the final session before the closing plenary.  It was encouraging to have an interested audience and some good questions about what OEPS has been doing with opening up practice on participatory course production.  Beck Pitt, OEPS Researcher, live broadcast the presentation via Twitter Periscope.

After the closing plenary panel it was time for goodbyes as everyone dispersed back around the globe after taking in some of the sights of Cape Town.

Part 2 covers OER17 in London and my reflections on comparing the themes of the two conferences.

Image credits: Cape Town Convention Centre, OE Global Gala Dinner, View of Table Mountain and Lions Head and Anna by the OEPS Poster by Beck Pitt and licensed CC BY 2.0. 

From OER to OEP – OEPS at OER17

Following hot on the heels of the OE Global conference in Cape Town is the OER17 conference in London.  This year the conference theme is ‘The Politics of Open’.

oer17-wheel-CC-BY-NC-Taro-Taylor-https__flic.kr_p_3pQWP-707x530

Image credit: CC-BY-NC Taro Taylor https://flic.kr/p/3pQWP remixed for OER17

OEPS has two presentations in the same parallel session period in different rooms.  One is by Ronald Macintyre and Pete Cannell (presented by Ronald) called ‘Mind the Gap: Structural Holes, Open Educational Practices and the Third Sector’.  The other OEPS by Anna Page is called ‘From OER to OEP – enabling open educational practices via platform development and open course building exemplars’. OEPS researchers, Beck and Bea are also presenting on Wednesday in a later session. They are presenting on ‘Exploring international open educational practices’. There is also a presentation from Gill Ryan from the Open University in Scotland (where OEPS is hosted). Her presentation is called ‘Open Learning Champions: a model for widening participation’.

While Ronald will explore the OEPS experiences of working with different partners to develop small badged open courses with third sector organisations and curating learning journeys, Anna will talk about the work OEPS has been doing to further develop the platform on which those courses are being hosted.  Specifically, she will focus on the evolution and use of OU Labspace / OpenLearn Works which was relaunched as OpenLearn Create in January 2017 as an online platform for hosting OER by anyone.  She will examine the improvements and developments which the OEPS project identified for the platform and collaborative course production.  She will also briefly discuss the extent to which collaborative open educational practices promoted by OEPS in these exemplar courses are helping to change cultures in both education and third sector organisations who are exploring OER as a means for wider participation in their subject expertise. Beck and Bea (along with their colleagues from the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University) will examine the meaning of OEP in three stages:

  1. Review examples of OEP in the Scottish context.
  2. Recontextualise these examples and examine them within the international context, through the use of exemplar case studies from around the world.
  3. Present an emerging framework of open practice based on their research to date.

In doing this they aim to further develop a definition of OEP through a systematic analysis of international open practices.

The abstracts for the presentations can be viewed online at the OER17 conference website:

Mind the Gap: Structural Holes, Open Educational Practices and the Third Sector [1516]

From OER to OEP – enabling open educational practices via platform development and open course building exemplars [1486]

Exploring international educational practices [1549]

Open Learning Champions – a model for widening participation [1525]

 

Slides for the presentations are on Slideshare:

Mind the Gap: Structural Holes, Open Educational Practices and the Third Sector

From OER to OEP – enabling  open educational practices via platform developmen and open course building exemplars

Exploring international educational practices

 

Open Learning Champions – a model for widening participation

In the first of a number of blogs about OER17, Gill Ryan, Learning Partnerships Officer at The Open University in Scotland (OUiS) explains what her presentation will cover.

Gill Ryan, OEPS Forum 4 (CC BY 4.0, Beck Pitt)

Gill Ryan, OEPS Forum 4 (CC BY 4.0, Beck Pitt)

OUiS operates a network of Open Learning Champions, working in partnership with a range of voluntary sector organisations, community learning groups, libraries and others. The aim is to provide open learning in familiar spaces using open educational resources (OER) on OpenLearn and OpenLearn Works, as well as massive online open courses (MOOCs) on FutureLearn. The project has managed to successfully engage with people who may not otherwise consider themselves ‘learners’, and who may face significant barriers to accessing more traditional widening participation programmes.

Lane (2012) suggests that ‘inexperienced and unconfident learners’ may not gain much benefit from open educational resources without the support of a tutor. Open Learning Champions address this absence of support, through offering light touch facilitation and in some cases the possibility of peer support, within an existing and trusted relationship. This can be seen in the context of what Cannell (2016) describes as ‘a movement’ towards developing partnerships which target widening participation groups, and provide contextualised use of OER as well as support. For example, a group of carers may be supported by a carer support worker to undertake a relevant open educational resource, such as Caring Counts – a self-reflection course for carers available on OpenLearn Create.

The OUiS has run a series of workshops for champions to introduce them to open educational resources, develop their confidence in navigating the platforms and supporting learners, and explore different pathways from open educational resources into higher education and other positive destinations. Since June 2015, 17 workshops have taken place and there are now 127 champions from 60 organisations. Initial evaluation of the pilot (Ryan & Hewitt 2015) suggested that each champion may reach eight learners. My presentation at OER17 will present the findings of follow-up evaluation on the impact of the first year, which suggests that each champion is reaching 10 or more learners and that the learners they engage come from more difficult to engage groups, making this an effective widening participation model.

Some Reflections on “The Gathering” 2017

At the SCVO Gathering in February we had a stall where we collected information about Third Sector engagement with free open online materials, we used an interactive poster as a survey tool, with a good response rate, and we ran a workshop on day 2, which 21 people came to. A fuller report on the outcomes of this is forthcoming, but we thought it was worth sharing an impressionistic account of the workshop.

OEPS stall at the Gathering 2017

Figure 1: The OEPS stall at ‘The Gathering’ by OEPS CC-BY-NA-SA 2.0

In the workshop OEPS and Parkinson’s UK shared our experience of the opportunities and challenges of working with each other to create OER (for example Understanding Parkinson’s) and we also explored Scottish Union Learn’s work supporting users of OER. We kept it brief, because we wanted to allow space for others to explore this area. We asked two sets of questions, one set were a “what if”, and the second to think about what openness might enable.

In the first set we asked people to imagine a future where education is free and open, and then reflect on what it would enable for them as an organisation that uses, or may produce, resources to support their clients. On the broader scale while people did think it might be empowering and allow some to overcome barriers, they were concerned who would be empowered, and whether it might accentuate inequalities. They saw it would give them reach as organisations and might reduce costs of delivery and development, but were worried about the ability of their organisations to cope.  While they recognised the opportunities for organisations and clients, this concern around capacity was also expressed in relation to delivery. There was a lot of concern expressed about business models of openness and how this might be supported in the long term

In the second set we asked them to dig a little deeper and reflect on what open would enable, getting them to think about what would need to happen to make it happen, what needed to change within their organisation and what it would enable them to do for their clients. There was a focus on strategic leadership within the organisation and the need for resources (both finance and people) to be allocated to the area. There were also responses around lowering the bar, with organisations feeling that developments costs and technical difficulties were still prohibitive. People felt funders would need to recognise the costs of being open and there would need to be clear and transparent ways of establishing the value for their clients. The emphasised that costs should not just be for development work or one off pilots, but also for maintaining and developing their staff and supporting clients on a long-term basis. In some ways this is a broader issue for the Third Sector, with the tendency for funding to be short term being a long-term problem. Thus the concern was not openness, which was seen as positive, but openness without long-term support.

Tag cloud of participant responses in the Gathering Workshop

Figure 2: Tag cloud of participant responses to questions in the Gathering Workshop. OEPS CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

The tag cloud is based on the comments on the big bits of paper on the tables.  It may appear that worries dominated hopes, however, going around the tables and in plenary people were more positive about the possibilities for them and for clients. They recognised that they needed to operate in this space in order to meet the needs of their clients in an increasingly digitised world. They were not approaching it from wide-eyed techno-utopianism, but recognised the challenges for them and their clients. Those challenges relate to open and online in a broader context, of how to support people into the digital world, and questions within the Third Sector more broadly around strategic change, and how to sustain activities. I think this is probably a question we need to ask ourselves in the OER/OEP community.  It is all very well having resource to make something open, but what about the resources to ensure it is used and that it remains useful, so asking how to enable things to be open, what openness enables, and how to ensure it is sustained.

Ronald MacIntyre and Pete Cannell

 

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Storify: OEPS @ the Gathering 2017