by Pete Cannell (OEPS project)
Online repositories hold a huge range of educational materials that encompass learning objects, video, audio and structured courses. The range of choice can be a deterrent for experienced learners and is even more so for those who are tentative and lack confidence. Complexity and choice becomes a barrier to the effective use of open educational resources (OER) in widening participation. In this context a new initiative by the Open University in Scotland is really welcome.
Open Pathways builds on a similar scheme developed by OU colleagues in Wales to support journeys from informal to formal learning. The materials are available as a hard copy pack and online on OpenLearn and are aimed at non-traditional students interested in engaging with education. The approach is quite simply to show how informal learning opportunities can lead to more structured access study and then on to formal accredited higher education modules and qualifications.
There are three broad pathways identified:
- Arts and Languages
- People, Work and Society
- Science, Technology and Maths
Each pathway contains carefully curated options for informal learning using free open courses through to access modules and then on to accredited modules at SCQF level 7. The aim is to give learners confidence about where to start and a sense of structure to support progression. Within the three broad pathways there is still considerable flexibility to choose options that are of interest and relevance. The materials include simple tools that encourage a reflective approach to study and to negotiating within, through and between pathways.
Many non-traditional learners make the transition into education with the encouragement and support of a trusted intermediary. The initiative also aims to support individuals who play this ‘trusted advisor’ role to develop skills as ‘open learning champions’ and the materials include a dedicated guide which explains how Pathways can support them to advise and encourage potential leaners in ways which make use of social context and peer support.
by Beck Pitt and Caroline Anderson (OEPS project)
Beck, Bea and Caroline were at Citizen M, Glasgow on Monday for the The Open University (OU) in Scotland’s symposium to launch Caring Counts in the Workplace, an exciting new open educational resource (OER) to enable managers to support carers in balancing their caring and work roles. Nicely timed at the beginning of Carers Week and also in the year that Carers Scotland celebrates its 50th anniversary, the day brought together carers, support workers and employers to learn about the new course, find out more about how it was developed, its benefit to both employer and employee, and its potential for transforming lives. This post aims to act as a snapshot overview of some of the rich and interesting discussion and events from the day.
Caring Counts in the Workplace builds on the success of, and accompanies Caring Counts: a reflection and planning course for carers, which launched in July 2014 and was created in conjunction with 20 carers (“developed with and for carers”). Caring Counts in the Workplace is created for managers and policy makers and developed in collaboration with the Equal Partners in Care (EPiC) project (Scottish Social Services Council and NHS Education for Scotland) and with Carers Scotland, the course is aimed at employers who recognise that fostering an environment where every member of staff feels supported in the workplace is good employment practice, and who understand the benefits of having carer-supportive policies. Both courses provide the opportunity to earn OEPS open badges which demonstrate that you have participated in the course.
James Miller (Director of the OU in Scotland) and Jamie Hepburn (MSP, Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health) kicked off proceedings. Jamie Hepburn reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to carers and young carers, to supporting them to ensure they have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential, balancing their life goals with caring, and creating carer-friendly communities. The Minister talked about the Carer Positive kite mark, a Scottish Government funded initiative operated by Carers Scotland which currently involves over 50 organisations across Scotland, before congratulating the OU on achieving the first ‘Engaged’ level of the kite mark. The OU is the first of Scotland’s universities to achieve the Carer Positive kite mark, and Tony O’Shea Poon accepted the award on behalf of the Open University. In his thanks Tony highlighted that the rights of the carer must be aligned with the responsibilities of the employer.
Next we heard from Professor Allison Littlejohn (OU) on research highlighting Ten things skilled professional learners do differently before a range of speakers officially launched Caring Counts in the Workplace. During this session we heard from carer Lesley Bryce who talked about her own experiences: from recognising herself as a ‘carer’ to the impact that Caring Counts: a reflection and planning course for carers had on her. As Lesley has described it elsewhere:
“I think you definitely lose confidence if you have to give up a career, for whatever reason. Reflection helps you realise your potential, which can get lost in your caring role” (p8, Open Pathways to Education).
We also heard how Caring Counts in the Workplace is already having an impact: Seonad Hoy of social housing provider the Wheatley Group reported that 10 managers had already signed up to participate in a pilot of the course whilst ongoing support for carers at the organisation includes events during Carers’ week and flexible working practices. Wheatley Group are also actively working towards progressing to the next level of the Carer Positive Kitemark. The need for employers to support carers in varied ways was also highlighted by Gill Ryan who noted that the Scottish Courts Service provides services such as free Power of Attorney to its employees.
After lunch we heard about the amazing work of the Bridges Programmes which has been supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow since 2002. Maggie Lennon highlighted the importance of reflection for everyone they support and described the role and impact of the Reflecting on Transitions OER (also carrying OEPS badges) which was developed to enable their clients think about their current situation, previous experiences and think about next steps.
Prior to the plenary session, where we explored next steps and takeaway points, a number of parallel sessions enabled us to explore different initiatives in more depth. Participants had the opportunity to hear more about the content and structure of the new Caring Counts course, find out more about Carer Positive and the Kitemark and the new Open Pathways to Higher Education which has been designed to help support learners explore OER available on the OU’s OpenLearn platform in a structured way. The session also introduced the idea of Open Learning Champions and supporting others use of OpenLearn materials.
Beck has produced a quick Storify to capture in more depth the speakers’ thoughts and participant contributions and the research team are looking forward to working with Lindsay Hewitt and the Caring Counts team to document the impact of Caring Counts over the coming months. Presentations, photos and more from the day will also be available via the Caring Counts blog shortly and we’ll be adding further resources, blog posts etc. on the event as they go live!
This is the first of what we plan to be weekly updates on the project’s partnership and outreach activity. Normally we’ll cover the last five days but this time we thought we’d include the previous week too!
In the week beginning 23 February we had a number of discussions about using open educational materials to support democratic participation in Scottish society. We’ll be pursuing these in the coming months. Pete Cannell had an initial meeting with the Poverty Alliance and joined a discussion organised by Scottish Union Learning where we shared ideas about the development of Open Learning Champions with project workers from some of the main unions in Scotland. We also hosted the regular meeting of the OEPS Steering group where we reported on the progress of the project to date, including the plans for the OEPS hub website. A written report will be published on this blog shortly.
Ronald was putting the finishing touches to a report on the work we have been doing with rural schools in the Highlands using OER and OpenScienceLab, in part prompted by the upcoming deadline for OER15 http://oer15.oerconf.org/ where we are presenting on Wed the 15th of April, and partly so that we can assess what worked within the pilot and look at the next steps.
Ronald was also at the Scottish Union Learn Everyday Skills conference running a workshop to explore how we might encourage digital participation through and for education, it was a very insightful event and we learnt a great deal about how to support Union Learning organisers. It was a rich conversation and you can find more at the twitter hashtag #sules15
This week Pete met with the E-Learning Alliance and Pete and Ronald started discussions on how to produce an OER version of gender equality materials produced by the Teacher Education in Malawi project. Pete’s also developed a draft of a workshop and materials to support the development of Open Learning Champions which we will revise and refine following feedback from all those involved.
Looking ahead we have preparations to make around a series of workshops in Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, where we will be running a series of events in communities throughout the park using an enterprise OER Rural Entrepreneurship Scotland to structure a series of sessions exploring some of the complex problems facing remote and rural communities
Preparations for the OEPS Advisory forum on the 19th March are well in hand and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone who has signed up for this free event. We have space for a few more people to join us, so if you haven’t already booked your place, please register via Eventbrite. You can choose 2 of the 4 afternoon workshops to participate in as well as the project update and the keynote by Professor Laura Czerniewicz in the morning. For more information including workshop descriptions and the programme for the day, please read the Advisory Forum 2 blog post.