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Awareness of OER and OEP in Scottish Colleges – Survey Results

The Open Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) Project conducted a survey to find out about the level of awareness of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP) among college staff in Scotland. In total 236 valid responses were collected in a seven-week period from February 1st, 2016 to March 20th, 2016. The survey was distributed in 24 Colleges, and responses were obtained from 16 of them. However, most respondents came from 5 institutions, making unadvisable any conclusion that these results are necessarily representative of the sector as a whole.

Key findings

  • Awareness of open educational resources (OER) among educators in Scotland’s colleges is very low
  • Awareness of CC licenses is lower than public domain or copyright (but awareness of all license types is higher than awareness of OER in general)
  • Most educators share teaching materials via their institutions VLE but few share them openly online
  • Quality and accuracy are the most important factors influencing educators’ choice of teaching material
  • Lack of awareness and not knowing how to use OER are perceived as the highest barriers to adoption of OER
  • Staff who attend CPD opportunities are more likely to engage with OER and OEP


  • Efforts to raise awareness of OER and OEP among teaching staff in Scotland’s colleges need to be scaled up
  • Opportunities for development around the use of OER in the curriculum (and especially the affordances and limitations of open licenses) should be provided
  • Colleges should consider the possibility of ‘opening up’ their VLEs, and establish how to best support and encourage their teaching staff to share resources openly

The full interim report is available for download following this link. We have also shared the anonymised survey data under a CC BY license on FigShare.

The infographic below highlights some of the survey results.

Students as co-producers

The problem with students as co-producers is that they already are creators of value, we just need to recognise it

At the OEPS forum in Glasgow in late 2015 the final plenary was about what the OEPS project does.  On one level the agreement with the Scottish Funding Council details exactly this. Kerr Gardiner, from the OEPS steering group (you can read an interview with him on the OEPS hub) argued that OEPS would have only met the letter of the KPI’s if it only “made stuff”. I agree, educational practices are about doing things, and doing things to find out how to do things, to find answers, and to find out what the right questions are in the first place. One of the questions Kerr asked on that day was, why open educational practices are not leading to a world where students are recognised and valued as creators/producers of knowledge.

I said to Kerr at the end of the day that I had also wondered about this question and I would think about it further. The Thought piece: students Participation, Openness and the Curriculum is the result. In it I make some quite provocative claims. I suggest one of the problems is quality assurance, where student participation is part of a series of competition mimicking metrics and part of the application of private sector models to public goods. Academics are rightly suspicious of “tick box” approaches to measuring the value of education, as are many learners, and student co-production has become tarnished by association.  This links to treating learners as customers and approaches to student co-production drawn from contemporary narratives on “Service Design”, designing for and from end users, or “Design Thinking”, start with the assumption of learner as consumer. This approach fatally undermines participation, as even though learners sometimes behave as service users, learning is about more than this. Learners know this, as do educators.

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, (CC BY-SA-2.0)

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, (CC BY-SA-2.0)

I mention design, in part because I used to feel “Design Thinking” was part of the solution, I now see the assumptions about customers and how value is created do not map well onto education. However, what does apply is the sense of who is the expert, designers think of themselves as the experts in process and, even when listening to “customer”, the product. Likewise, educators have their own values. I noted above that this makes them suspicious of approaches to education that treat learners as customers and measuring the value of education through crude metrics. However, being the arbiter of quality and value in learning also makes it difficult for educators to “let go”. So while it is tempting to blame issues around student participation on the marketisation and metricisation of value in HE perhaps educator ego also makes a contribution.

“Letting go” is not easy.  For example, in community development, where educators have done so, they report feeling uneasy about their role and function. There are pressures from learners to be the expert, not to mention organisational resistance to change and the effect on career prospects. Learners are also at risk, opening up the curriculum means building learner capacity, it has resource implications and needs to be supported, and it has long-term risks around raised expectations, which go unfulfilled.

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, (CC BY-SA-2.0)

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, (CC BY-SA-2.0)

These are fraught questions, clearly the technical affordances of digitisation and open licences offer the promise of opening up curriculum. However, as I argue above, and in more detail in the paper, [insert link] political, organisational and cultural issues, assumptions and attitudes embedded within the stories education organisations tell about themselves represent a significant hurdle to opening up curriculum to learners. As I indicated at the start, the issue with students as co-creators of value in education is that they already are; it is just we have trouble seeing it.

Thought Piece: Students Participation Openness and the Curriculum

Ronald Macintyre

Scottish Rural Parliament

by Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)

It is amazing what you get round to over the holidays when the wind starts blowing, and telecommunications stop working. A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of representing the OU in Scotland at the Scottish Rural Parliament. I am a rural resident myself and the event was half professional half personal – maybe even three-quarters personal. I thought I ought to earn my place by running a fringe workshop. Since its first meeting at the SCVO ‘Gathering’ in 2014 I have been following the development of the Parliament, and also following the absent presence of education narratives within the big rural themes identified by the group. Clearly others had felt the same as the fringe events had a number of education events, and in the Open Space where people could suggest topics, the education ones were very busy.

Possibly education is neglected because it cuts across a number of other areas. However, it is also because in Scotland our vision of rurality is both singular and fragmented. Singular, in that if a Government body has Rural in the title it tends to deal with land based things, and only land based things. Fragmented in that every service, every aspect has a rural element and each area deals with separately. For example, ‘rural schools’ is clearly an
education issue and the narrative is dominated by pupil numbers, recruiting teachers, ensuring rural pupils receive an equivalent experience and teacher CPD. These big issues are the responsibility of the local education authority. However, in dealing with issues of geography, demographics and equivalent experience, it is easy to neglect more fundamental questions like, ‘what does an education system that supports the development of sustainable rural communities look like?’ It was this question that formed the basis of the workshop I ran at the Parliament.

I had 18 people in the room, which I was pleased with, and I started off with an anecdote. A decade or so ago I was at a Rural Development conference listening to a paper by a Canadian academic Mike Corbett on rural education. He asked us, ‘who thinks of themselves as a rural academic’, some hands; ‘who grew up in a rural area’, some hands, though not the same ones. Then, ‘who was told if they do not work hard they will be stuck in this place for the rest of their lives’, hands and some wry smiles, ‘Who still lives in that place’, two hands, my own and the speaker’s hand. He then went on to describe the education system as grease in the barrel of a gun (I know, a real North American metaphor). Its measure of success is people leaving those communities. Of course it is clear that many feel there is nothing to stay for, and if we think about an education system that offers people the possibility to stay we must also address the question of what will they do if they stay.

In order to develop these interlinked issues I asked people to consider the question, ‘what does an education system that supports the development of sustainable rural communities look like?’ I asked them to consider it “in an ideal world”, to forget the barriers, all the things stopping it; what would the ideal education system be to enable thriving rural communities. I asked them to capture their thoughts in a “Rich Picture”. I had thought that perhaps this soft systems method might be a wee bit of a difficult sell; after all it is coloured pens and paper. It was not. What was a hard sell was thinking of an education system in an ideal world. As I went round the tables people kept saying “we could have that, but no…”, “it wouldn’t work because … “, or “if only we had this we could do …”, and then people talked and rehearsed all the factors that were stopping those things. It became about the barriers and the consequences of those barriers. When I asked people to set those aside, to think about a vision without the barriers they got annoyed, upset even. We did get past this, but it was interesting to reflect, when we spend our lives dealing with the conditions and consequences, how difficult it can be to think about a future not constrained by those barriers.

So what did we find out? I include a couple of the images here, but of course it is not just the pictures but also what people say about the pictures that matters.

Rural education

FIgure 1: ideal rural education

Figure 1: One Group’s Image of an Education System to Support Sustainable Rural Communities. It is interesting to see the illustration of the importance of seasonal work on how people experience educational provision

Rural education barriers

Figure 2: Rural education barriers

Figure 2: One Group’s Image of the Barriers to accessing and developing Education Systems to Support Rural Communities

The key themes that came out were around freedom and mobility. By freedom, people meant being able to have a choice about the set of skills or subject, the level, and the mode of study. In many ways that sounds a bit like the ‘death of space’ push of much rural policy – of equivalence of experience; actually it was subtly different. Partly it related to the kinds of choices people talked about, for example skills and subject that might enable the freedom to remain in or move to a rural area. However, the critical element, what enabled those freedoms, was the centre of gravity shifting to rural areas, about decentralisation, about rural areas having the freedom to create the curriculum they need; to develop and grow it through connections and a distributed network, and decentralised expertise. On top of this was the idea that it was okay to stay in a rural area, it was okay to leave, and it was okay also to come back. From this participants developed a narrative about mobility, about an education system that allowed people to be mobile, but also that there was mobility between skills/subject, location and mode of study, and level. For those in the education sector it sounds deceptively like the ideas of virtual mobility that arose through the Bologna Process. However, they approached it from what mobility enables for rural communities, choice depends on those mobilities, and is enabled by them.

The second area was part of this as well. It was about the subjects and skills, the level and the balance of informal/non formal/formal interfaces, and where expertise lies. Indeed the last one seemed to be the one that people drew on; the sense that expertise about the needs of rural communities resides in rural communities. An education system that enabled sustainable rural communities would value informal and non-formal learning, within the community, with a currency that was recognised more widely. The latter was not an argument for accrediting the in/non-formal, but for a broader recognition that this kind of learning is important. They are important for the rural economy, in particular in land-based areas, but also in the increasingly important Third or Community sector. Important because through these networks people learn in, for and through doing; people were able to provide examples like how to sharpen a chainsaw, an aspect of being self-employed, or running a community cinema, or building a community hydro. Very diverse skills, but important ones for sustainable rural communities, and people talked about this sharing communities and groups, and between individuals within different sectors of the community and different generations as the “social glue” that binds them. This was happening now, it had value and was valued in rural communities, but perhaps the fact it hides in plain sight meant it was in danger of being overlooked. The teams suggested, what an education system for sustainable rural communities would enable is recognition of those skills and that knowledge more broadly, a recognition woven back into issues around mobility and choice.

I mentioned earlier the lack of education among the big themes of the conference. However, it did emerge as key through the Open Space approach where participants created their own sessions. One of the undercurrents of the workshops I ran was around personal and community autonomy, the sense of being able to identify and solve our own problems – about hard work and creativity. In these later sessions people spoke a lot about the need to recognise rural people as being enterprising, and for rural residents to recognise and own the idea they are entrepreneurs.

I suppose I should now hesitantly put my hand up and mention an OER on Rural Entrepreneurship in Scotland created by the OU in Scotland, a practical step-by-step guide to help individuals and communities put their ideas into practice. I am hesitant because, like a lot of people, from outside, the language of enterprise can make people uneasy, It smacks of “get on your bike”, and arguments that shadow the social capital/social inclusion debates which treat problems as social often individualising them, and by seeing solutions as coming from being more enterprising obscure the underlying structural inequalities. However, it was interesting to hear participants talk about enterprise and innovation, especially in relation to the fraught question that shadows my own thoughts: okay, we encourage people to stay, but stay to do what? It seemed to be about claiming the language of enterprise, in particular at a community level; it was about how rural communities can collectively address the challenge of creating meaningful employment, reasons to come and reasons to stay. It was very refreshing and reminded me of my own wistful contribution on School Education* I made to the Open Education 2030 series of workshops, where I imagined a rural society transformed into sites of material and symbolic production in new and interesting ways. I will leave it to you to read (if you wish) my embarrassingly idealistic musings, but underneath it was the sense that open education is about an attitude to the role of education in society, and the role of openness in allowing people to access, create and share education materials, of destabilising the sites of knowledge production and consumption, as part of creating a more just and equitable world – and perhaps being open to thinking about our rural communities as sites of innovation and enterprise.