Two new OpenScience Lab experiments (part of the OpenScience Lab project) are now available as open educational resources (OERs). These experiments give examples to secondary school pupils of the type of experiment that is carried out in university science courses. One experiment focuses on genetic testing to identify individuals with different numbers of functional genes, whilst the other focuses on gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (GC-MS). The experiments can be used by individuals or by teachers in the classroom.
The experiments can be accessed in the OpenScience Lab Collection on OpenLearn Create. They were created by OEPS based on material from the Open University Course S288 Practical Science. The OERs have been piloted with Scottish pupils in two different secondary schools.
Commenting on the launch, Pete Cannell Co-Director of OEPS stated: “Making these experiments open educational resources online demonstrates the usefulness of OERs in making expertise in a particular subject more widely available. They not only enable school students to get a taste of university science but also support teachers in delivering the science curriculum and may help them encourage more students to engage in STEM subjects than might previously have considered them.”
Each course has a short supplementary guide for teachers who may choose to use these in their classrooms.
By Anna Page (OEPS project)
The conference theme for OER15 was Mainstreaming Open Education. The OER movement is coming of age; however awareness of the benefits of OER and open educational practice is still patchy or non-existent in education and beyond the sector. As Cable Green explained in his keynote at the opening of the conference the OER movement still has a lot of OER infrastructure work to do to reduce barriers to education, transform teaching and learning and enable open practices so that OER can truly realise its potential.
Origins of OEPS
The overriding theme of the OEPS project is the use of OER at large scale to help transitions between the different parts of education and to widen participation, particularly with learners and creators of OER who are not in the traditional bounds of the academy. Our poster gave a snapshot view of this which Pete Cannell explored in more detail during his presentation. In his talk at OER15 Pete explored the origins of OEPS. It stemmed from the Scottish Government policy of encouraging educational institutions to work together with outside partners for mutual benefit. From 2007 onwards partners started asking the OU about OpenLearn and free resources for learners, which excited their interest in producing OER of their specialist materials. However in almost every case revisiting them a few months later revealed they had made little progress because they didn’t know how to go about creating good engaging OER without support. These partnerships which the OU in Scotland pursued brought skills and knowledge from outside the academy and resulted, in some instances, in the co-creation of material with professionals and students. These weren’t large scale initiatives and compared to the wealth of resources the OU was making available on OpenLearn, small individual resources produced with partners was big news to the partners in their contexts, especially when the materials produced went on to influence other sister organisations.
Open Practice Partnerships
A major strand of the OEPS project involves supporting over 40 partners as they explore OER and OEP, the barriers they face and the good practice they can share. Pete highlighted working with Union Learning Reps (who act as intermediaries between learners and organisations but are often poorly resourced), Parkinsons UK, who have some good hardcopy materials for their face to face accredited workshops but cannot deliver these on scale and the Glasgow University Wellcome Trust funded ‘End of Life care’ programme which has a large community online but no mechanism for sharing the material that people really need in a structured way. He also talked about working with Lomond and Trossachs National Parks, their work with SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) and the dissemination model which OEPS is helping them develop. Partners are very enthusiastic, and bring context, skills and knowledge which is really valuable.
Pete mentioned that the OEPS project is investigating the use of Open Badges. There are already five badges associated with the project (attached to materials hosted on OpenLearn Works, some of which have been developed in partnership between the OU in Scotland and various caring organisations), with more planned in the near future.
OEPS online hub
An online hub for open education practice is being developed as part of the project with the primary focus being on guidance, exemplars and communities rather than creating another repository of OER, though the hub will have a search function which helps users find good OER for their needs by searching many repositories. Pete explained that the hub will sit on top of OpenLearn Works, an OER sandbox and repository site where anyone can create OER. OpenLearn Works was developed by The Open University to complement its OpenLearn site and the OEPS project is inspiring further developments including better user guidance for the site.
Science OER in schools
In the other presentation from the OEPS project (Open Science happens somewhere: exploring the use of Science OER in schools), Dave Edwards explained how, following discussions with Education Scotland, some OpenScience lab resources had been brought into two classrooms in rural Scotland, in a pilot to explore the extent to which these online experiment tools could help overcome some of the very real problems faced by small rural secondary schools when delivering the Science curriculum. For these schools their remoteness means that visiting local universities is impractical, their budgets for lab equipment and materials are constrained and access to the internet is often interrupted because of telecoms infrastructure problems. Additional constraints also included the desire for the pupils to be able to access materials online from home computers but that in some cases no home computer was available.
Following discussions with the teachers about the OpenScience lab tools, it became apparent that the tools in themselves were not sufficient in a secondary school context. The teachers, who knew the curriculum and the capabilities of their pupils, needed wrap-around materials to help prepare the pupils for the tasks, which would give the pupils a different perspective during revision of the topics they had previously covered in class. The pilot team used existing OU OER to prepare this material and it was uploaded to OpenLearn Works behind a password, as a couple of the images used had not been cleared for open use in the short timescale available.
The project team visited the two schools when the resources were being used to observe how the pupils and teachers reacted to the materials. For the Polymerase Chain Reaction experiment, the pupils worked through the preparatory materials, ran the experiments, collected and interpreted data, discussed their interpretations with their teachers and tried ideas out. For the Analysing pesticides in the environment using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the series of lessons involved the pupils in revising concepts of structural formulae and valencies, learning about mass spectrometry, developing their own hypothesis about how pesticides might be distributed in a tidal bay, devising a sampling plan, collecting data, matching spectra to library data, calculating concentrations and interpreting the results. In both topics these were sophisticated experiments and complex tasks.
Dave reported that feedback from the pupils showed that they saw this as a ‘normal way to learn’ (though they didn’t always like online learning, as Ronald Macintyre mentioned in tweet during OER15), it was convenient, they gained an understanding about experimental work and the equipment, it generated plenty of discussion and they were able to access it from home. It seems from this small pilot free open experiments can be made more accessible to pupils by wrapping them in a VLE-based learning journey.
Open Scotland declaration
There was also a session (Common Ground – an overview of the open education landscape in Scotland), run by Lorna Campbell, about the Open Scotland Declaration which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend because of parallel session clashes. The OEPS project is working with Open Scotland to develop a strategy for wider buy-in of the Open Scotland Declaration in the longer term; the OEPS project funded the second draft of the declaration.
OER16: Open Culture will be held in Scotland during April 2016, with Lorna Campbell (CETIS, University of Bolton) and Melissa Highton (University of Edinburgh) as co-chairs. The conference themes will offer plenty of opportunity for the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland project to share progress, findings, experiences and good open practices being developed in partnership across Scotland.
At the OER15 conference in Cardiff on 14th and 15th April the OEPS project is presenting a couple of short papers and a poster. The poster (736) shows the intersection between the various project strands. This is accompanied by a short presentation and paper on the project (696). In addition a small pilot project exploring the use of openly licenced content in secondary schools in the West Highlands of Scotland during December 2014 is reported on in a short paper and presentation (726) which is also affiliated with the OEPS project.
You can find the OEPS project contributions (abstracts and full papers) to OER15 on the OER15 website:
Promise of OER – Opening Educational Practices in Scotland – poster https://oer15.oerconf.org/sessions/promise-of-oer-opening-educational-practices-in-scotland-736/
Opening Educational Practices in Scotland – short paper https://oer15.oerconf.org/sessions/opening-educational-practices-in-scotland-696/
Open Science happens somewhere: exploring the use of Science OER in schools – short paper https://oer15.oerconf.org/sessions/open-science-happens-somewhere-exploring-the-use-of-science-oer-in-schools-726/
Pete met with Third sector partners and continued to work on ideas for developing support for practitioners and researchers in specific community contexts. He also attended the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning 2015 conference in Glasgow and presented a paper ‘Lifelong learning and partnerships: rethinking the university in the digital age’.
Ronald has been running a well-attended series of events in Lomond and the Trossachs National Park working with communities using our free online course on setting up rural businesses, putting finishing touches to papers for OER15, finalising a report on Open Science in Schools (a blog post will be forthcoming), and developing a learning design workshop with Glasgow University End of Life Studies team.
Anna continued to compile the ‘How to use OpenLearn Works’ guide which, once published on OpenLearn Works in April, will make it easier for those who are not familiar with Moodle to create and upload their OER to the platform, which currently lacks comprehensive user guidance. The OEPS hub development will commence shortly, following requirements gathering, user story writing and search option investigations. The hub will be built using Drupal.
Caroline and Maggie were busy finalising arrangements for OEPS Advisory Forum#2 in Stirling on Thurs 19th March (#OEPSforum2). It’s shaping up to be a really interesting day with a great turnout. If you’ve not yet signed up, read more about the event at https://oepscotland.org/2015/02/13/bookings-open-for-the-oeps-advisory-forum-2/.