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

OEPS Final Report launched!

The core message of the final report from the OEPS project is that innovative practice that puts students first can ensure that open education breaks down barriers to participation in education.  The report is published today (Monday 11th September) to coincide with the ‘Promise of Open Education’ Conference at Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth.

The report provides evidence and case studies from across the Scottish sector.  It highlights the potential of working across boundaries, an approach that enabled the OEPS project to co-create fifteen new free, open online courses with organisations like Dyslexia Scotland and Parkinson’s UK.  OEPS found a high level of interest in the use of these online courses in the informal education sector with almost half of the organisations involved coming from the third sector, trade unions or employers.

The OEPS project was concerned with developing good open educational practice that supports widening participation and social justice.  Working with organisations that support non-traditional students provided the team with valuable insights into the barriers that online learning can present.  The report links to a range of reports and guidance material designed to help educators, course designers and widening participation practitioners enable the barriers to be overcome.

The report highlights innovative practice from across the Scottish sector but suggests that more needs to be done to provide a policy framework that can embed this practice in the mainstream.  It suggests that wherever possible educational materials should be released as open by default.

The report stresses the value of institutional collaboration in the use of open educational resources and recommends that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council consider systems, support mechanisms and policies that can facilitate and sustain such partnerships.

The report is essential reading whether you’ve never heard of open education before or whether you are a seasoned open educator. We encourage everyone to read the OEPS Final Report.


Pete Cannell

OEPS Co-Director


This post 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. Join the conversation before, during and after the event with the hashtag#BeOpen’. We are livestreaming on the day via Periscope and there will be a Twitter chat in the afternoon using #BeOpen and @OEPScotland.

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’. 

#101 Open stories – Sheila’s story

Guest blog by Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer (Digital Learning), Glasgow Caledonian University. Originally published on 29th March on her blog HowSheilaseesIT.

‘I’ve been thinking about my OER story or stories. Where to begin? I wish I had the time and the ability to weave a tale worthy of Scheherazade. One full of poetry, wishes, fantastic voyages and the odd djinn.  One that would keep Vice Chancellors awake till just after the midnight hour (aka TEF/REF/NSS results publications).  One that would entice them to fully embrace open education. However,  if I want to get something done this week  all I can do is share my experiences and some reflections my open journey so far.

My involvement in the open education world has been quite long and varied.  It started during my time at Cetis. We were supporting open standards and open source, had been part of the whole learning object thang,  so OERs and wider open educational practice were a natural addition to our remit. I was involved in our first OER briefing paper, was one of the first OLNet fellows back in 2009 when I went to Mexico to the OCWC conference to find out more about that community.  I probably should do a time line of open stuff I’ve been involved in . . .

I think my open story is very much an evolving, personal one.  Open practice has become an increasingly important part of my working life. I’ve never been “hard core” open, in the sense that it’s never taken up 100% of my time. Even back when I worked with Cetis I wasn’t involved directly in the support of the Jisc/HE OER programmes, I was of course influenced by them and did try to filter the open element to other Jisc programmes I was involved in at the time.

Sharing has always been at the heart of my professional practice. When we were made to blog at Cetis it actually opened a whole new level of professional interaction and personal reflection for me.  At the time I didn’t really consider this as open practice, but now I really do.  Openly sharing and reflecting has connected me to so many colleagues across the globe.  That has been equally rewarding and enriching. It has lead to conversations and sharing of practice and ideas.  This open story of mine probably hasn’t  changed that much in the last two years.

I think that my experiences of open learning has been, to use a phrase I don’t really like, “game changing” for me. Back in 2011/12 in the heady days of MOOCs I probably signed up for a few too many of them but I really wanted to understand this aspect of open from a learners point of view. I still am a recovering Mooc-aholic. I still slip off the wagon now and again, but it’s not the same as it was back in the old days . . .

My experience as an open learner really helped me to focus and reflect on my own approaches to learning, my own practice in terms of my approaches to learning design, to learner engagement, to peer support, to assessment. In fact all the things I do now as part of my job.  It also introduced me to another set of fantastically diverse, open learners and educators. People like Penny who is one of the organisers of the 101 stories project.

Open-ness is now a habit for me. It’s part of my practice, but it has natural (and at time imposed) peaks and troughs. Not everything can or should be open. I often find it a struggle to keep open on my agenda. I’m still working out my own praxis with open-ness.  I’m doing this through the work of many open education researchers, people like Catherine Cronin whose work provokes and inspires me, and leads me to many others who are working in this field.

Open education isn’t a fairy tale, but it does confront some vary salient, moral and ethical issues around education.  Including but not limited to: who can access education and publicly funded resources/data/research findings.  What rights do staff have over materials they produce whilst working for institutions?  Open-ness doesn’t automatically lead to a happy ending.  It has many twists and turns, just like the stories of the Arabian Nights. It might be a bit like The Force in Star Wars, surrounding us and binding us. . . but that’s a story for another day.

Today as the UK takes a leap into the unknown and to closing of borders and creation of barriers, we need open stories more than ever. We need these stories to permeate, to keep open on the wider political agenda. To keep people talking about open, in the open.’


This guest post is published as the first 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’.


This post was originally published as part of the #101 open stories series. It was published on HowSheilaseesIT under Creative Commons License . It is republished under the same CC BY NC SA licence.

Celebrating #YearOfOpen at the OU!

This blog is adapted from the blog originally published by Beck Pitt on the OER hubPhotos by Bea de los Arcos and licensed CC BY 2.0 .

YearOfOpen-at-The-Open-University-UK by Bea de los Arcos

‘A range of people participated either face-to-face, or online, in last week’s OER Hub hosted celebration of all things open at The Open University (UK)! Wednesday 20th June saw colleagues from across the University come together to share their ideas and experiences of openness as part of 2017’s #YearOfOpen international celebrations marking the anniversary of a number of important events in the development of open education. The afternoon kicked off with colleagues from across the university sharing what open means to them and their roles.

Beck Pitt introduces #YearOfOpen at the OU (Bea de los Arcos, CC BY)

Beck Pitt introduces #YearOfOpen at the OU (Bea de los Arcos, CC BY)

Lightening talks showcasing the diverse range of ways open makes a difference included personal reflections in From Theory to Practice: An Open Educational Journey (Tim Seal, TESS-India Technical Director), a look at why we might be more open in our practice in Ethics in Knowing: Rationales for Openness (Rick Holliman, Professor of Engaged Research) to exciting collaborative activity both within the University and beyond in Promoting and Supporting the Openness of Ideas related to Open and Online Learning (Laura Hills, Lecturer, Academic Professional Development) and Open Educational Practice Beyond the OU: Open Platform and Practices (Anna Page, Senior Producer: Open Education Projects). Review the full line-up here. Talks were followed by a productive group discussion on how we can shape open at the OU over the coming months. The event was livestreamed and you can catch up on the recording on YouTube or Periscope.’

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.

Open badges – new developments

I attended the mini conference ‘Open Badges: what, why and how’ at the University of Dundee on 19th June.  Dundee is working with the Universities of Abertay and Aberdeen, under the aegis of the QAA Scotland Transitions Enhancement Theme, to explore the use of Open Badges.  The focus of the project is on transitions from university to employment and the use of badges to recognise employability skills through extra- and co-curricular activity.  The University of Abertay already has some really interesting experience of using this approach with their LLB students. The conference also included presentations from Grainne Hamilton on her work at Digital Me and Doug Belshaw who looked at the future of Open Badges in a talk titled ‘Open Badges in Higher Education: 2.0 infinity and beyond!’.


Doug Belshaw speaking at Dundee Conference, image by Pete Cannell, CC0

Still on the theme of transitions the Open University’s suite of Badged Open Courses (BOCS) on OpenLearn.  There are now seventeen available.  The majority are concerned with supporting transitions from informal to formal learning.  However, the latest addition to the collection is ‘Succeeding in postgraduate study’ aimed at supporting the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study. Whilst this free, openly licensed course was written by the OU, it will be of interest to colleagues across Scottish higher education and applicable to any student making the transition to postgraduate study in Scotland. The selection of Badged Open Courses on OpenLearn Create also continues to grow, including the OEPS collection.

Pete Cannell


After the Porous University

The Porous University set out to reconceptualise university. Does it need to have boundaries, could those boundaries be porous or even non-existent? What would this look like? Why might this be desirable? Over two day these and many other questions were considered. There are many tweets, Periscopes and other social media from the event on #porousuni sharing emerging ideas.

After the event the discussion and thinking continued across many of the participants’ blogs including:

In addition to the The-Porous-University-Symposium—Provocations, for us some further provocations came to mind:

  • If the promises implicit in OER’s 5Rs are to be realised there needs to be a major shift of focus from technical standards for interoperability to simple practical methods of obtaining content  for use, development of simple tools for remixing and support for sound pedagogical frameworks.
  • Generally speaking HE is failing staff and students by not thinking through the digital literacy skills that are needed in a world or ubiquitous smart devices and openly licensed content.//
  • Open approaches could transform curriculum development but only if there is a rethinking of what kinds of academic labour is valued and what kinds of systems underpin collaboration and sharing.
  • There is a disconnect between the academy and the informal learning sector that requires new models of partnership and engagement.


What do you think?

Open Education Week 2017

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Open Education Week 2017 runs from 27th-31st March and is a celebration of the global open education movement. Featuring inspiring initiatives, organisations and people around the world that further open education, OE week offers a myriad of activities, webinars and information to help you connect with and find out more about the impact and benefits of openness in education.

As it happens, the OEPS steering group meeting will take place on 28th March, mid-way through Open Education Week. The OEPS steering group includes five higher education institutions dedicated to furthering open education in Scotland. To celebrate and showcase their work, and that of other organisations they partner with, we thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the exciting open education activities happening across the Group.

University of Edinburgh


University of Glasgow


University of Highlands and Islands


University of Strathclyde


Open University in Scotland / Open University


Opening Educational Practices in Scotland


Want to get involved? You can browse the wide range of activities that individuals and organisations are hosting around the globe on the Open Education Week website, and don’t forget if you do participate, host your own event, want to share a resource or idea and join in the conversation use the hashtag #openeducationwk. If you tweet any of our activities or resources, please include @OEPScotland and let us know what you think!


SSSC Open Badges

Towards the end of February I spoke to Keith Quinn, Learning & Development Manager (Digital Learning) and Rob Stewart, Learning and Development Adviser at the Scottish Social Services Council offices in Dundee.

SSSC (Pete Cannell CC-BY 4.0)

Photo: ‘SSSC’, Pete Cannell CC-BY 4.0

More than 200,000 people work in social services across Scotland; the workforce includes social care workers, social workers, social work students and early years workers. SSSC are responsible for registering the workforce, making sure that they meet the standards set out in the SSSC Codes of Practice.  As part of its support for the professional development of the social services workforce SSSC has developed the SSSC Open Badges website.

Currently 107 different badges are available through the platform.  The underlying pedagogic model is based on using badges to recognise situated learning.  Badges are awarded for reflecting and acting on learning not simply for attendance or participation.  Assessment and verification of reflective activity is carried out by employers, line managers and sometimes by SSSC staff.  Social care organisations can register with the system and are allocated a unique code.  Learners can then submit the code for their particular employment and will be assessed by someone with knowledge of their context.  This decentralisation allows the system to operate at scale, SSSC sample to ensure consistency of standards.

One of the challenges for SSSC is developing a culture in which online learning is seen as engaging and relevant.  They are aware that many learners identify online with tick box approaches and so in developing the use of badges that recognise reflection and reward active engagement they are ‘trying to break what’s in people’s heads about just clicking …’.   They have deliberately avoided quiz-based assessment.  In part this is a challenge about changing perceptions, however, it is also about supporting learners to develop their skills.  Support is offered for reflective writing but learning can also be evidenced in other forms, for example using video. The learning and development team are also actively engaged in supporting and modeling good practice in digital learning design.

Organisations can use the SSSC platform to badge their learning materials.  Currently ten are doing so and the figure is likely to rise to around fifty in the next twelve months. To date 830 badges have been awarded and the number is rising rapidly.

If you have an interest in professional development and in the use of micro credentials for professional learning I’d strongly recommend browsing the SSSC site.  The short video explaining what digital badges are and can do is particularly good.


Pete Cannell for the OEPS team