Blog Archives

Looking back and looking forward

This is the final post on the OEPS blog before it transitions to an archive.  As such I’d like to use it to reflect on the big themes that the project set out to address.

I joined the project following more than a decade of work in the Scottish widening participation scene and recent experience of exploring the use of open educational resources with organisations that support non-traditional students attempting to gain access to further and higher education.

OEPS was distinctive in foregrounding social justice and widening participation but I think I underestimated the challenge that this presented.  The Open Education movement grew out of a belief that educational material should be a public good.  And this belief has informed developments over nearly two decades.  However, at the start of the project it was clear that there were very few points of contact between the Learning Technology and Widening Participation communities in Scotland.  Although the latter community was beginning to grapple with issues of digital participation, knowledge of the affordances of open education or indeed of the existence of OER was very limited.

So for the project bringing people together from a range of different backgrounds was critical and we prioritised this in organising events and in targeting possible partners.  We’ve written more about this elsewhere and the final project report provides a useful summary of this engagement.

Final report

As we developed a network of partners it rapidly became clear that, while the language of open education and the technicalities of open licensing were not well known, a broad range of organisations and individuals were grappling with the social consequences of digital technology. In the OEPS final report we note that

‘… in the last ten years there has been a historic shift in the way that society uses digital technology.  Ownership of smart digital devices has grown rapidly. An OFCOM report[1] published in 2015 found that 66% of UK adults owned a Smartphone, up from 39% just three years before.  This has had an impact on culture, communication and self-directed learning.  However, the links between digital engagement and the digital literacies required for learning are not straightforward.   In 2009 the JISC report on Learning Literacies in a Digital Age[2] noted that learners in general are ‘poor at deploying their digital skills in support of learning’.  This remains the case for young people entering higher education direct from school and evidence collected during the OEPS project suggest that this is also the case for non-traditional students.’ 

It’s widely accepted that good practice in supporting students from a widening participation and student retention perspective should be part of the mainstream rather than an add on.  Taken as whole I would argue that the experience of the OEPS project suggests that this is also true of good Open Educational Practice.

At the outset we were concerned by the skewed demographics of participation in Open Education, which suggested that historic inequity was being reproduced or even accentuated.  Looking at open education through a widening participation lens, and working closely with non-traditional learners and with the organisations that support them, helped us develop valuable insights into the way that stubborn and persistent barriers to educational participation are expressed in digital environments.  Digital technologies open up new possibilities  and new barriers for students.  In developing exemplar open courses with a range of partners the OEPS project provides evidence that these barriers can be overcome.  Much more work is needed in this field but critical to success and at the core of good practice are a number of simple issues:

  • Developing practice that puts student experience and student context at the centre.
  • Understanding the challenges that non-traditional students face.
  • Making the maximum use of co-design – involving practitioners and students in the process of making or remixing course material, study approaches and assessment.
  • Maximising opportunities for social interaction and peer support in course design. Material delivered online can be used in a whole range of online and face-to-face blends.
  • Holding firm to a belief that technology can support education but that it’s a means to an end and not an end in itself.


Image by Shamina Remesh. Becoming lost in a digital world CC BY-SA 2.0 

Taking all this on board in a consistent way would be a big step forward.  Although not the whole story since, as Maha Bali outlined in her presentation at the final OEPS event, open is always mediated by power and privilege.   I would argue that in the digital world that potential students inhabit addressing these issues is a necessity and not a choice if we are to meet the ambitious widening participation targets set by the Scottish Government.  But if we can get it right the advantages will accrue to all our students.

Pete Cannell

OEPS Co-Director


[1] accessed 29 March 2016

[2] Learning Literacies in a Digital Age, Beetham et al, 2009

Farewell then, OEPS. What comes next?

Guest blog by John Casey, Senior Learning Technologist, City of Glasgow College. Originally published on 6th September on his blog Geronimo’s Cadillac.  


OEPS, (Open Educational Practices Scotland) is coming to an end, it was a 3 year project funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and operated by the Open University in Scotland – see . It was a refreshing departure from the norm of ed-tech projects in that set out to work with ‘not the usual suspects’, i.e. not the ed-tech scene, much to the ire of some faces in that scene. Instead it concentrated on working with community and third sector groups. I attended some of the meetings and found them useful and encouraging. The SFC is to be commended on funding the initiative and should engage in a longer term, more sustained funding and intervention activities in the area of open education. For reasons why, read on.

The OEPS project did not really impact much on the FE scene, which was a shame as further education has a lot to gain from open educational methods. I was discussing this with the OEPs team at one meeting and one of the useful metaphors that we came up was the notion of our educational institutions being ‘digital gated communities’. With FE being the most locked down and isolated, especially after the recent ‘reforms’ that have cut funding and left largely traditional approaches to vocational in place with the odd gesture to using technology. It’s much the same in HE (except with more money), with a democratic deficit in accountability in how these publicly funded institutions work. Open education could, and should, challenge their existing pedagogical, epistemological and economic models – might as well be ambitious! It could be used as an ‘educational design laboratory’ for Scottish education to experiment in. Without such civic and democratic initiatives from outside our educational systems will never change and improve. Indeed, if we look at history we can see that it was such actions that moved education forwards in the 19th and 20th century. Without such initiatives, we are in danger of falling prey to the perfidious discourse that permeates much of the ed-tech scene – presented as a kind of super shiny Ted Talk on a loop – which seems to fill a local and national policy vacuum and paves the way for privatisation. Here is a link to an excellent takedown of these ideas.


This guest post from John Casey is published as one of many celebrating Open Education in the run up to the OEPS final event, The Promise of Open Education at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh on Monday 11th September. Sign up for the event or join the conversation before, during and after the event with the hashtag#BeOpen’. 


Open 5 X 5: Five open permissions meet five reasons for being an open educator

Guest post by David Porter, CEO, 

This blog is a remix of a remix. A good thing in my view.

Since 2013, I’ve built upon a presentation that Clint Lalonde of BCcampus created and titled Beyond Free. The original was licensed CC BY-SA, and I’ve since added to it and updated and localized its message to suit different audiences. It remains a winner that consistently inspires instructors to rethink their practices and take a leap into the open realm.

The great thing about Clint’s original presentation was that it stated five great reasons to use OER, beyond the simple, “because it’s free” mantra. What he did in Beyond Free was to build upon the five freedoms (permissions) expressed by David Wiley in his now famous baseline definition of open content. Clint added context to those theoretical freedoms in a way that demonstrated real practice and conveyed a message of possibility to even the most reluctant open educator. The five reasons to move beyond free remain a great explanation for the open education community, and the original presentation remains a reusable and remixable template for anyone to use. Thanks, Clint.

I’m going to reprise those five great reasons in a shortened prose format. The graphic presentation version has many benefits and far more illustrations than appear here. Here are five benefits (reasons) to use open resources and open practices.


Benefit #1: Full legal control to customize, localize, personalize, update, translate, remix…

There is no better way make resources your own than to develop them yourself. But a close second is to exercise the provisions of Creative Commons licenses by clicking on the license logo and reading the plain language provisions of the human readable deed. No letters to authors needed, just acknowledgement of the creator with a straightforward citation. A simple, practical, generous starting point to customize an existing learning resource.


Benefit #2: Access to customized resources improves learning

Studies, journal articles, and research papers are pointing out what might seem obvious: when you have access to free and open learning resources at the start of your course or program, you’ll likely be successful in your studies. No financial pressures, no workarounds. You are able to concentrate on your course and give it your full effort from day one. More detailed studies are beginning to investigate the effects of localized and customized resources versus the generic textbook approaches aimed at a broadly defined population of learners. I expect localized versions of case studies, illustrations that reflect your culture, and images that engage students because they are relevant to their experience will all contribute to better open resources.


Benefit #3: Open provides opportunities for co-creation and more authentic resources

Terry Greene at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario has been engaged in a co-creation project with peers over the past year, soliciting exemplars and advice from seasoned veteran educators to provide a sourcebook for new faculty and instructors who will need support and guidance as they take on their teaching responsibilities.

The Open Faculty Patchbook: Patching Pedagogy Together, for Each Other is a contribution space by faculty for faculty, and carries on open invitation to educators to contribute their authentic experiences and advice for a new generation of higher education instructors. A printed copy of the current “patchbook” was given to new faculty at their orientation session in August 2017. It is a work in progress. Help build it.


Benefit #4: Collegial collaboration helps build the commons

My colleagues at BCcampus are pioneers in the use of “sprints” and professional networking among institutions to quickly and purposefully build team capacity and open resources for learners through collegial collaboration. They’ve done it all:


Benefit #5: Demonstrate the service mission of higher education institutions

Research, teaching and service are three key principles that guide higher education institutions. Many institutions have experimented with freely available courses in the form of MOOCs. But few have actually done so with freely available open resources and a mechanism for gaining credit through a challenge exam or prior learning assessment and recognition. is a consortium of 30+ higher education institutions from around the globe who have come together to prototype alternative pathways to recognized credentials for learners. The partners are working together to provide courses from their own institution as contributions to a first-year program of study that will invite learners to participate in university level courses and also apply for assessment leading to credit towards a certificate, diploma or degree.

Every piece of content, software, and infrastructure supporting the OERu is open source or openly licensed. is a demonstration of openness in support of the service mission of its institutional partners. OERu partners walk the open talk.

In Conclusion

Open education is more than freely available, openly licensed content resources. It is also about people, like-minded educators who see the benefits of rethinking the status-quo, and who are willing to see what will happen when we bring teaching and learning into the open.


David Porter, CEO


This guest post from David Porter is published as one of many celebrating Open Education in the run up to the OEPS final event, The Promise of Open Education at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh on Monday 11th SeptemberSign up for the event or join the conversation before, during and after the event with the hashtag#BeOpen’. 

#BeOpen – the value of sharing knowledge through social media

Guest post by Sue Beckingham, National Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer (Business Information Systems and Technology) at Sheffield Hallam University. 

I’d like to share with you how I went about developing a valued learning network through the sharing of knowledge using social media. The first thing to mention is that it took time and patience. As I learned to navigate different social spaces and developed connections with other educators, I did a lot of listening. Some may refer to this as lurking; however I’m not a fan of the term and prefer to describe this learning activity as positive silent engagement. We learn by listening and online it’s no different.

My online informal learning space began with Twitter. I developed my network by looking at who other educators followed and began to add them to my own personal learning network. I noted how helpful individual’s bios were; indicating what individual’s interests were, often including links to other profiles, for example LinkedIn, blogs and websites. Over time as my own network grew, I was blown away with the many informal learning opportunities at my fingertips; shared by the educators I was connecting with. Peers spread across the globe, were sharing articles, books, presentations, reflective blog posts, educational videos and podcasts. I was learning from educators spanning many disciplines. I also realised that Twitter and other social media spaces each have powerful search engines and alongside Google present exciting results when looking for topics of interest.

I started to share others work whenever I read something interesting that I thought would also be of interest to those within my own network. Responding to tweets indicated that I’d read them. Such interactions might start with a like and then progress to a comment or question. Letting people know you have an interest in their work can make their day! It also leads to further conversations.

As my confidence developed I began to share my own work. From the start I wanted to make this accessible to others and gave my presentations a Creative Commons licence when I uploaded them to SlideShare. These were then shared via my LinkedIn profile, Twitter and Google+. Peers started to take an interest in these and as a result I was able to get valuable feedback which helped me to further develop my thinking. I made a concerted effort to add my publications and projects to my LinkedIn profile, ResearchGate,, and my own university’s research archive repository SHURA. Within these spaces you have the option to upload files, making your work more accessible to a wider community.

Coming back to Twitter as an open sharing space for sharing knowledge, I’d recognised the value of tweetchats which were being used in the US by educators as a forum for discussions. In 2014 with my friend Chrissi Nerantzi we started a pilot tweet chat called #LTHEchat Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Chat. It soon became popular and continues to take place every Wednesday at 8pm (with the exception of short breaks over the summer, Christmas and Easter). Each week we discuss a different topic relating to learning and teaching suggested by a guest, who also composes six questions. This is a fun and engaging way to share knowledge relating to the topic. You can follow @LTHEchat for updates on forthcoming chats.

When attending conferences and events, check out the hashtag that is being used. Start making connections on Twitter and LinkedIn with the people you meet in person. It’s a great way to extend your network and gain access to more openly shared knowledge. I hope this encourages you to find new ways to share your knowledge and to #BeOpen through social media.


This guest post from Sue Beckingham is published as one of many celebrating Open Education in the run up to the OEPS final event, The Promise of Open Education at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh on Monday 11th September. Sign up for the event or join the conversation before, during and after the event with the hashtag#BeOpen’. 





Save the date! OEPS final event

Save the date: 11th September OEPS final event at Dynamic Earth

OEPS final event save the date (by Anna Page, CC BY NC SA 4.0)

‘The promise of open education’ conference is the final event of the OEPS project. It will take place on Monday 11th September in Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh. Further details about the event will be made available soon, however please save the date in your diaries.

Emporium of Inspiring Ideas

The OEPS team contributed to the finale of the College Development Network’s Emporium of Inspiring Ideas on 17 June. We spoke to college staff about the use of open resources in the curriculum. The OpenScience Laboratory is an initiative of The Open University and The Wolfson Foundation. The online laboratory makes interactive practical science accessible to students anywhere and anytime the Internet is available. The laboratory features more than a hundred investigations based on on-screen instruments, remote access experiments and virtual scenarios using real data. As a project we are particularly interested in how free open resources like Open Science Lab are used in practice in the classroom and in the pedagogy and support that teachers and students require to get the best out of these resources. In 2015 we have a report of a pilot project using the OpenScience Lab resources in Scottish schools.

We discussed the findings of the pilot project and what we’ve learnt more generally about good practice in the use of open resources in specific teaching contexts. The college staff we spoke to were unfamiliar with OpenScience Lab and the use of free openly licensed resources in the classroom. However, there was a lot of enthusiasm for thinking through how this kind of material can be used in college settings. We are looking forward to continuing this discussion at a workshop hosted by the College Development Network in the early autumn.

Pete Cannell – for the OEPS team